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West Virginia disaster declared as US flood toll hits 24
Washington (AFP) June 26, 2016

Deadly California wildfire destroys at least 150 homes
Los Angeles (AFP) June 26, 2016 - California firefighters on Sunday struggled to contain a wildfire that killed at least two people and destroyed some 150 homes as it raced over drought-parched land whipped up by strong wind.

The blaze, known as the Erskine Fire, is raging in an agricultural and oil region of south-central California.

The blaze has spread to nearly 37,000 acres (15,000 hectares), the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL Fire) said.

Some 1,700 personnel have been assigned to battle the wildfire, which is just 10 percent contained, CAL Fire said on Twitter.

At least 75 other homes have fire damage, officials said.

Unusually high temperatures, bone-dry conditions that make brush and grass flammable, and powerful winds gusting up to 50 and even 60 miles per hour (80 to 100 kilometers per hour) helped spread the flames of a fire that broke out Thursday afternoon in the sparsely populated Lake Isabella area of Kern County.

Deputies from the Kern County Sheriff's office said they may have found the remains of a third person killed by the fire in the victim's mobile home in the Lake Isabella area.

"We've located what we believe are human remains," sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt told reporters on Saturday. "We are treating it like a crime scene."

Pruitt said the remains were "pretty badly burned."

The cause of the fire is still unknown, but if investigators determine that it was intentionally set then the fire deaths will be treated as homicides, Pruitt said.

Firefighters are having an especially hard time battling the blaze due to rough hills in the area.

"This is very, very steep terrain," CAL Fire Battalion Chief Mike Mohler said in video posted on Facebook, as he pointed towards the smoke.

"We're looking at increased winds ... high temperatures, low humidity in the single digits -- that makes this a very difficult firefight," Mohler said.

The National Weather Service forecast low humidity and a temperature of 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37.2 degrees Celsius) on Sunday, unusually hot for this time of the year in that region of California.

- 'Lost everything' -

Thousands of area residents affected by the fire have been evacuated to shelters run by groups like the American Red Cross.

"I've lost everything -- all I have is what I've got on," local resident Fred Coleman told CBS 5KPIX television, interviewed at an evacuation center in the town of Kernville.

California Governor Jerry Brown has issued a state of emergency for the region, allowing aid to be deployed more quickly.

Authorities have closed several highways and evacuated two schools and a retirement home in the affected area.

California is experiencing a record five-year drought and trees and brush are at risk of igniting from the smallest spark.

More than 14 large fires are currently raging in the United States, mostly in the southwest, where a record heat wave left at least five dead last Sunday.

The death toll from flooding in the US state of West Virginia rose to 24, as President Barack Obama declared a major disaster, releasing federal aid for the hardest-hit areas.

Days of heavy rain, especially on Thursday and Friday, caused massive flooding in the state, where high waters have washed away cars, trapped hundreds and cut power to large areas.

The president "ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by severe storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides," the White House said in a statement Saturday.

The latest fatality from the flooding was reported Saturday in Greenbrier County, bringing the death toll to 24, state spokeswoman Jessica Tice told AFP.

More than 21,300 people remained without power across the state late Saturday, according to the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (WVDHSEM).

Hundreds of homes had been severely damaged or destroyed and more than 60 roads remained closed, it said.

Photos on the division's Facebook page showed a muddy, swollen river in the West Virginia town of Clendenin that had spilled over its banks and inundated a nearby neighborhood with floodwater.

The federal support "will provide much needed assistance to severely-impacted regions," West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement.

"As emergency response efforts continue, with members of the National Guard and local emergency responders hard at work helping our neighbors, we will continue pursuing additional assistance for all affected areas."

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) teams will work with state officials to evaluate the damage in the coming days, and there may be additional requests for federal assistance, Tomblin said.

- More rain expected -

Sixteen of the victims were killed in Greenbrier, the most mountainous and rugged of the hardest-hit counties, local media reported.

Among the dead was an eight-year-old boy who was swept away while walking along a creek bank with his mother and sister, local news station WSAZ reported. His body was found after three hours of searching.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Kistner described the downpour to the Charleston Gazette-Mail as "a one-in-500-year event."

While the skies are forecast to be clear on Sunday, cold fronts on Monday and Tuesday are expected to move through the region, both with "high moisture count," the NWS said in a Hazardous Weather Outlook bulletin.

"There is a risk for additional flooding... especially in the areas hard hit this last week."

Volunteer centers were being set up in five of the worst-hit counties, and Red Cross and community-based shelters had also been opened across the state, the WVDHSEM said.

"We have so many businesses, individuals and churches really rallying together and gathering supplies," Tice said.

The flooding forced the PGA Tour to cancel its Greenbrier Classic golf tournament scheduled for July 7-10 in the town of White Sulphur Springs. Practice rounds had been scheduled to begin on July 4.

The Old White TPC golf course "suffered extensive damage from the flooding, and is beyond reasonable repair to conduct the tournament," the PGA said in a statement.

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Previous Report
23 dead in West Virginia floods
Washington (AFP) June 25, 2016
Flooding in the US state of West Virginia killed 23 people and stranded others who had to be plucked from rooftops and rescued from fast-moving waters, state officials said Friday. "The damage is widespread and devastating. Our focus remains on search and rescue," Governor Earl Ray Tomblin told a news conference after floods caused by a day of heavy rains. "I had planned to fly around th ... read more

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