Death toll rises to 40 in California fires

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Forty people are now dead in what have become the deadliest and most destructive fires in California’s history.

The fires have consumed nearly 214,000 acres north of San Francisco, with the state’s governor Jerry Brown describing the scene as a “horror that no one could have imagined”.

He said: “This is truly one of the greatest tragedies that California has ever faced.

“The devastation is just unbelievable.”

The victims were aged between 14 and 100, most of them elderly.

Many of them were thought to have died between late 8 October and early 9 October, when the fires emerged and took many people by surprise.

There are still around 300 people missing but authorities are confident many of these will be found alive.

Sonoma County accounted for 22 of the fatalities and more than 200 of the missing.

Image:The stairs are all that remain of a home destroyed by the Atlas Fire in Napa

A week after the fires began, 5,700 homes and businesses have been destroyed.

Around 100,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, many of them being sheltered in churches, according to local media.

Tim Halbur lost his parents LeRoy and Donna, both 80, when they tried to flee their Santa Rosa home last week.

Both were well-known community volunteers and had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

He said: “The winds came up pretty quickly, it was all countryside behind them.

“My mom was found in the car in the garage, my dad was somewhere on the driveway. He probably had gotten her into the car and he went outside to check on conditions.”

One of the youngest victims was Kai Shepherd, a 14-year-old killed by the flames as he and his family tried to escape, first in their cars and then apparently on foot.

A neighbour found their two charred cars, then Kai’s mother, father and 17-year-old sister, all badly burned but alive. Kai was found too but he did not survive.

Image:Firefighters are working 24 hours on, 24 hours off as they try to contain the fires

At least a dozen of the famous wineries in Napa Valley and Sonoma County have been ruined, something that will have a long-term effect on the region’s important tourism industry.

More than 10,000 firefighters, including many from outside the state, have been battling the 16 major fires, with the help of air tankers and 70 helicopters.

The forecast is for high temperatures and dry conditions to continue through the weekend but winds are expected to weaken, which could help firefighters.

Image:An aerial view shows the burned properties in Santa Rosa

The Cascade Fire, about 80 miles from Santa Rosa, was 81% contained on Saturday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

But the much larger Atlas Fire, which now covers more than 50,000 acres northeast of Napa, is just 45% contained.

US President Donald Trump has so far said nothing about the fires on his favoured medium, Twitter. His tweets on Saturday were mainly about his son’s appearance on Fox News and his healthcare plans.

Girl, 8, dies in fall on cruise ship in Miami

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An eight-year-old girl has died after falling from an upper deck into the lobby of a cruise ship docked in Miami.

The youngster is thought to have fallen between 25ft and 50ft (between 7.5m and 15m) from the interior atrium of the Carnival Glory on Saturday morning.

The ship, operated by Carnival Cruise Lines, had recently arrived in PortMiami, Dodge Island, just off shore from mainland Florida and east of Miami Beach, at the time.

A witness, Raymond Kassim, told Fox News affiliate 7News Miami he heard someone cry out.

“You heard ‘Oh, my baby, oh, my baby’, and when you looked, she was down at the bottom,” he said.

Image:The embarkation point for cruise ships docked at PortMiami

“It happened so fast. She just fell over.”

Passengers described chaotic scenes as those in the ship’s atrium realised what had happened.

On board emergency responders attended the scene and attempted to save her life.

Emergency medical technician Bob Dorr, who was among the first to try to save the girl, said: “She had severe injuries.

“I started doing CPR until the doctor showed up, and then the doctor took over.”

Image:Cruise ships docked at PortMiami

The girl was taken in a critical condition to the Ryder Trauma Centre, about three miles away from the port, but she died.

7News interviewed a relative of her family at the hospital, named only as Zion, who said she was only out of sight for a few seconds when the tragedy happened.

The family are understood to be from The Bahamas and had just completed a seven-day cruise.

A statement from Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines, a subsidiary of US-British Carnival Corporation & PLC, to 7News said: “Our most heartfelt condolences are with the family at this very difficult time.”

Police are investigating.

Former Trump aide to invest in Weinstein firm

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One of Donald Trump’s closest confidantes has thrown a lifeline to the scandal-hit Weinstein entertainment empire, amid signs it could be up for sale.

The Weinstein Company has confirmed it has entered an agreement with Colony Capital, a private equity firm run by Tom Barrack.

Colony will inject cash into the company while discussions continue over it buying all or part of the Weinstein firm.

:: UK police investigating five Weinstein sex assault claims
:: Corden sorry for Weinstein jokes

The torrent of accusations against Harvey Weinstein had raised questions about the future of the company he founded.

On Friday, his brother Bob denied suggestions the company would be closed or sold, saying it was “business as usual”.

But 72 hours later came the confirmation of the deal with Colony. Although it is likely to mean one of the great powerhouses of Hollywood remains in existence for the immediate future, major changes are almost certain to take place.

The Weinstein Company, founded by the brothers in 2005, is behind Hollywood blockbusters including Django Unchained, The King’s Speech and Silver Linings Playbook.

In a statement, Mr Barrack said: “We will help return the company to its rightful iconic position in the independent film and television industry.”

A billionaire who made his fortune in real estate, Mr Barrack was the chairman of Mr Trump’s presidential inauguration committee. He previously bought another Weinstein creation, Miramax, and saved Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch from ruin.

Video:Special report: Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace

As allegations piled up against Mr Weinstein on both sides of the Atlantic, shareholders and business partners of The Weinstein Company had begun to question their continuing involvement with the firm. Amazon Studios and director Oliver Stone were among them.

Weinstein himself has been fired from the company he founded, although it has been reported he will make representations at a board meeting this week that his firing was unlawful.

The producer is reported to be attending a rehab centre in Arizona. At the weekend, the one-time Oscar grandee was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Police in New York and London are examining allegations against him dating back to the 1980s.

The Weinstein Company has seen a number of its directors quit in the wake of the revelations about their most high-profile colleague.

Those remaining are publicly confident about the company’s future.

Board member Tarak Ben Ammar said: “We believe that Colony’s investment and sponsorship will help stabilise the company’s current operations as well as provide comfort to our critical distribution, production and talent partners around the world.”

Weinstein has “unequivocally denied” all allegations of unlawful behaviour.

Gerard Butler in hospital after motorbike crash

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Gerard Butler has been reportedly been taken to hospital after crashing his motorbike in Los Angeles.

The 300 star came off the bike after he was cut off by a car, according to US celebrity news site TMZ.

Butler was taken to hospital after someone called 911, but a source close to the 47-year-old said he just suffered cuts and bruises.

The Scot is often pictured riding around LA on his Triumph and Harley-Davidson bikes.

Butler has been busy promoting his latest film, the disaster movie Geostorm, about a network of climate control satellites that malfunction and unleash weather-related chaos.

The film, which began filming in 2014, has been delayed after scenes had to be re-shot because of poor audience test screenings.

There are now concerns the film’s release is badly timed considering the recent hurricanes that hit the Caribbean and the US.

Clinton warns Brexiteers on Trump trade

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Hillary Clinton has warned Brexiteers against relying on the US if Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal.

The former presidential candidate said a ‘no deal’ divorce would be a “very big disadvantage to Britain”.

And she suggested pinning hopes on a new relationship with the US was ill-advised, branding Donald Trump someone who “doesn’t believe in trade”.

“I think (no deal) would be a very big disadvantage to Britain,” Mrs Clinton told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“I mean, no deal – meaning no preferential trade deals – which means products in Britain would not have the kind of easy access to the European market that you’ve had under EU membership.

Image:Theresa May and Donald Trump during a meeting in July

“It could very well mean that there would be more pressure on businesses in Britain, if not to leave completely, at least also have sites and employment elsewhere in Europe.

“I think that the disruption for Britain could be, you know, quite serious.”

She suggested Mr Trump would be a hostile political ally, claiming he was “on the verge” of pulling the US out of NAFTA – a free trade agreement between it, Canada and Mexico.

Mr Trump, who has often criticised NAFTA for shifting US manufacturing jobs to Mexico, has vowed to scrap the treaty unless it can be renegotiated on more favourable terms.

Barack Obama said in April 2016 that Britain would be “back of the queue” for trade deals, but that was denied by his successor in the White House.

Mrs Clinton was in the UK to receive an honourary degree at Swansea University for her work promoting the rights of families and children.

The university’s college of law was renamed The Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law.

Image:Hillary Clinton giving a speech at Swansea University

:: EU boss says UK ‘has to pay’ for trade talks
:: Nuclear industry prepares for ‘no deal’ Brexit

Mrs Clinton also said Brexit was a “pre-cursor” of “what happened to us in the US”, slamming “the amount of false information” disseminated by the Leave campaign.

“They transported a lot of that on behalf of Trump – you had (former Ukip leader Nigel) Farage campaigning for Trump and the like,” she said.

The former secretary of state also claimed Mr Trump had a “very narrow view of what a woman should be” and wanted to “keep women in their place”.

She said it was “sexist, if not misogynistic” to treat women like Angela Merkel differently because they might challenge him, compared with Theresa May, whom he liked.

James Corden apologises for Weinstein jokes

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James Corden has apologised after making jokes about the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

The Late Late Show host said his intention had been to “shame” the Hollywood producer, not to cause any offence.

Sky News estimates more than 40 women have come forward with accusations of rape, sexual assault and harassment against Weinstein, although the disgraced filmmaker denies wrongdoing.

Speaking at an AmfAR charity gala, Corden told his audience: “It’s a beautiful night here in LA.

“So beautiful, Harvey Weinstein has already asked tonight up to his hotel to give him a massage”.

Among his other jokes were: “It has been weird this week though, watching Harvey Weinstein in hot water.

“Ask any of the women who watched him take a bath.”

Corden apologised on Twitter, writing: “To be clear, sexual assault is no laughing matter.

“I was not trying to make light of Harvey’s inexcusable behaviour, but to shame him, the abuser, not his victims.

“I am truly sorry for anyone offended, that was never my intention.”

Many of those on social media did not see anything funny in Corden’s jokes.

Italian actress Asia Argento, one of his Weinstein’s accusers, said on Twitter: “shame on this pig and everyone who grunted with him”.

Rose McGowan, another Weinstein accuser, tweeted that Corden’s jokes showed “EXACTLY what kind of HOLLYWOOD you really are”.

NHS surgery waits run into years in Northern Ireland

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Patients in Northern Ireland are waiting three years to see a consultant about having surgery following a GP referral.

The BBC has obtained exclusive figures showing long waiting times before a decision to operate.

In Northern Ireland, targets say most patients should be seen within 9 weeks and none should wait over 15 weeks.

Yet some patients are waiting 155 weeks or more to see a specialist for spinal conditions.

A spokesman for the Health and Social Care board said it was ‘unacceptable’ that waiting lists had grown so long.

Longer and longer waits

The health service has not met the targets for several years.

Figures obtained by Freedom of Information requests in April this year and seen by the BBC show that in one of Northern Ireland’s five healthcare trusts, the minimum waiting time for an appointment with an orthopaedic consultant specialising in spinal conditions was 155 weeks.

For upper limb conditions, the minimum wait was 127 weeks.

By June, waits for spinal appointments at the same trust had risen to 159 weeks.

Megan’s story

Megan Fleming, who is 14 years old, needs an urgent operation to correct a curvature, or scoliosis, of her spine.

Her health is deteriorating fast, and she has trouble breathing. Despite her condition, the teenager from Carrickfergus continues to go to dance classes, but says her future is on hold until her operation, which surgeons have told her will be a year away.

Her mother Karen said: “Megan loves dancing. It’s just her life at the minute. She just wants to dance.

“But at the minute she needs the surgery to help her. You could see the consultant was absolutely gutted and you could see it was hurting to say a year, but it’s out of his control.

“I’ve paid taxes, I’ve paid national insurance. So why can’t I get the surgery that she deserves?”

Megan and Karen are now trying to raise the £50,000 that her surgery will cost privately, fearing that the long wait will put Megan’s long-term health at risk.

Dr Ursula Brennan, a GP in Belfast, said that seeking private healthcare was a decision more and more patients were having to make in the current climate.

“You’re going to have to wait, and it may be several months. It may be into 52 weeks, or 80 weeks, or beyond.

“It’s very difficult to turn this conversation to – and these are our elderly folk – that you may have to use your life savings to actually improve your quality of life.”

When asked about the long waits, which are far higher than in other parts of the UK, the deputy chief executive of the Health and Social Care Board, Michael Bloomfield, said: “That is absolutely unacceptable, and that’s why we need to clearly illustrate the need for reform.

“There are about 35,000 more surgical procedures required than the health service currently has capacity for.

“Without the additional funding to see those patients or have them treated in different ways, it is regrettably inevitable that waiting times will increase to the position that they are now in.”

Political vacuum

The political commentator Deirdre Heenan is working on a report with the Nuffield Trust into the emerging healthcare crisis in Northern Ireland.

She said: “In the last nine months we’ve had no government in Northern Ireland. We’re in a political vacuum.

“This system reverts to keeping the show on the road, and any ideas about transformation or change are simply mothballed.”

In a blog co-authored with health economist John Appleby, she writes: “There is a difficult backdrop: austerity, increasing demand, rising expectations, and political uncertainty.

“It is not clear that the public are in a position to call for change. They may not have good information about how well the service meets their needs, and have not necessarily been made part of the long conversations about change, which as a result can sound like it brings bad news.

“But the impact on patients of the current impasse in implementing necessary changes is stark. In June this year, for example, one in six of the entire Northern Ireland population was currently on an outpatient or inpatient waiting list. In England the figure is one in 14.

“And over 64,000 people had been waiting over a year for their first outpatient appointment – a quarter of all those on the waiting list. In England, by contrast, around 1,500 people were still waiting over a year – just 2 per cent of the number in Northern Ireland for a population over 30 times larger.”

On Wednesday, the BBC will be publishing its NHS tracker, which allows users to look at how their local hospitals are performing on waiting times for A&E, cancer and planned operations.

Drug therapy ‘restores breathing’ after spinal injury

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A drug-based therapy appears to restore breathing in rats paralysed from the neck down by a spinal injury, according to scientists.

They hope their “exciting but early” findings could ultimately help free patients from ventilators.

The pioneering work, in Cell Reports, suggests the brain may not be needed for respiration if a nerve pathway in the spine can be awakened.

More studies are now needed to better understand and exploit this system.

‘No brain’ breathing

Normally, messages to and from the brain control breathing.

If the spinal cord is damaged high up in the neck, these messages can’t get through and a person will need mechanical assistance or a ventilator to breathe.

Experts have been looking at ways to repair spinal cord damage to reconnect with the brain, but the latest therapeutic approach, being explored at Case Western Reserve University, is entirely different.

Dr Jerry Silver and colleagues believe they have found an alternative nerve pathway for breathing in the spinal cord itself.

The researchers used a drug and a light therapy known as optogenetics to dial up this spinal system.

It appeared to control the body’s main muscle of respiration – the diaphragm, a dome-shaped sheet of muscle that sits underneath the lungs, separating the chest from the abdomen.

The live adult rats that they studied had severed spinal cords, meaning the brain could not be the source of the diaphragm movement or breathing that the researchers saw after they administered the therapy.

They believe the treatment works by stopping other nerve signals that would normally silence the spinal system that they found.

Dr Silver said: “This is a primitive response that has been kept in the spinal cord for emergencies, like gasping and screaming in response to danger.”

Although the researchers say the movements they saw resembled breathing, it’s not clear yet if it would be enough to sustain life. They plan more animal studies to check.

Dr Silver said: “Ultimately, the goal of this research would be to free people with these neck injuries from having to use mechanical ventilators.

“Infections and other complications from mechanical ventilators are a leading cause of death after spinal cord injuries.”

Dr Thomas Becker, an expert in neuroregeneration at Edinburgh Medical School, said: “This is an important discovery on the fundamental working of the spinal cord.

“Understanding the spinal network is the first step toward future therapies.

“This knowledge could be used for future therapies to restore breathing in patients who lost nerve connections from the brain as a consequence of spinal cord injury.”

Concern over norovirus increase by Betsi Cadwaladr health board

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The largest health board in Wales is urging people to be alert to the symptoms of norovirus, amid concerns over a rise in cases this year.

Last November, a major outbreak of the winter vomiting bug hit Wrexham Maelor Hospital and two community hospitals run by Betsi Cadwaladr health board.

The outbreak closed nine hospital wards in north Wales alone.

The sickness bug costs the UK economy £15m every year, according to researchers at Bangor University.

More than 130 patients were affected in north Wales last November and the outbreak resulted in 192 “lost bed days” – occasions where beds were unavailable to new patients.

Tracey Cooper, assistant director of nursing for infection prevention at the health board, said there were already reports of norovirus cases at care homes in north Wales.

“Estimates of the number of people affected are difficult to get because most people who have norovirus stay at home,” she said.

‘2.9m cases annually’

“We monitor what’s happening in the southern hemisphere through the summer, because their summer is our winter and vice versa.

“What we’ve seen this summer is they’ve had increasing numbers of norovirus and also increasing numbers of flu and very severe flu.

“Usually what they get in our summer, we then get in winter.

“So we are expecting to see an increased number of people affected by norovirus and an increasing number of people with flu and severe flu.”

Researchers at Bangor University in Gwynedd have estimated there are 2.9m cases of norovirus in the UK annually.

They calculate the cost to the economy is £15m every year, although other estimates place the cost much higher.

Humans do not develop immunity to norovirus, meaning people can catch it repeatedly.

It spreads easily, and can be transferred to different surfaces by touch.

Exclusive: Microsoft responded quietly after detecting secret database hack in 2013

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(Reuters) – Microsoft Corp’s secret internal database for tracking bugs in its own software was broken into by a highly sophisticated hacking group more than four years ago, according to five former employees, in only the second known breach of such a corporate database.

The company did not disclose the extent of the attack to the public or its customers after its discovery in 2013, but the five former employees described it to Reuters in separate interviews. Microsoft declined to discuss the incident.

The database contained descriptions of critical and unfixed vulnerabilities in some of the most widely used software in the world, including the Windows operating system. Spies for governments around the globe and other hackers covet such information because it shows them how to create tools for electronic break-ins.

The Microsoft flaws were fixed likely within months of the hack, according to the former employees. Yet speaking out for the first time, these former employees as well as U.S. officials informed of the breach by Reuters said it alarmed them because the hackers could have used the data at the time to mount attacks elsewhere, spreading their reach into government and corporate networks.

“Bad guys with inside access to that information would literally have a ‘skeleton key’ for hundreds of millions of computers around the world,” said Eric Rosenbach, who was U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber at the time.

Companies of all stripes now are ramping up efforts to find and fix bugs in their software amid a wave of damaging hacking attacks. Many firms, including Microsoft, pay security researchers and hackers “bounties” for information about flaws – increasing the flow of bug data and rendering efforts to secure the material more urgent than ever.

In an email responding to questions from Reuters, Microsoft said: “Our security teams actively monitor cyber threats to help us prioritize and take appropriate action to keep customers protected.”

Sometime after learning of the attack, Microsoft went back and looked at breaches of other organizations around then, the five ex-employees said. It found no evidence that the stolen information had been used in those breaches.

Two current employees said the company stands by that assessment. Three of the former employees assert the study had too little data to be conclusive.

Microsoft tightened up security after the breach, the former employees said, walling the database off from the corporate network and requiring two authentications for access.

The dangers posed by information on such software vulnerabilities became a matter of broad public debate this year, after a National Security Agency stockpile of hacking tools was stolen, published and then used in the destructive “WannaCry” attacks against U.K. hospitals and other facilities.

After WannaCry, Microsoft President Brad Smith compared the NSA’s loss to the “the U.S. military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen,” and cited “the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities.”

Only one breach of a big database from a software company has been disclosed. In 2015, the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation – which develops the Firefox web browser – said an attacker had gotten access to a database that included 10 severe and unpatched flaws. One of those flaws was then leveraged in an attack on Firefox users, Mozilla disclosed at the time.

In contrast to Microsoft’s approach, Mozilla provided extensive details of the breach and urged its customers to take action.

Mozilla Chief Business and Legal Officer Denelle Dixon said the foundation told the public about what it knew in 2015 “not only inform and help protect our users, but also to help ourselves and other companies learn, and finally because openness and transparency are core to our mission.”

The Microsoft matter should remind companies to treat accurate bug reports as the “keys to the kingdom,” said Mark Weatherford, who was deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security when Microsoft learned of the breach.

FILE PHOTO: An advertisement about the Microsoft Cybercrime Center plays behind a window reflecting a nearby building at the Microsoft office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S. on May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

Like the Pentagon’s Rosenbach, Weatherford said he had not known of the Microsoft attack. Weatherford noted that most companies have strict security procedures around intellectual property and other sensitive corporate information.

“Your bug repository should be equally important,” he said.


Microsoft discovered the database breach in early 2013 after a highly skilled hacking group broke into computers at a number of major tech companies, including Apple Inc, Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc.

The group, variously called Morpho, Butterfly and Wild Neutron by security researchers elsewhere, exploited a flaw in the Java programming language to penetrate employees’ Apple Macintosh computers and then move to company networks.

The group remains active as one of the most proficient and mysterious hacking groups known to be in operation, according to security researchers. Experts can’t agree about whether it is backed by a national government, let alone which one.

More than a week after stories about the breaches first appeared in 2013, Microsoft published a brief statement that portrayed its own break-in as limited and made no reference to the bug database.

“As reported by Facebook and Apple, Microsoft can confirm that we also recently experienced a similar security intrusion,” the company said on Feb. 22, 2013.

“We found a small number of computers, including some in our Mac business unit, that were infected by malicious software using techniques similar to those documented by other organizations. We have no evidence of customer data being affected, and our investigation is ongoing.”

Inside the company, alarm spread as officials realized the database for tracking patches had been compromised, according to the five former security employees. They said the database was poorly protected, with access possible via little more than a password.

Concerns that hackers were using stolen bugs to conduct new attacks prompted Microsoft to compare the timing of those breaches with when the flaws had entered the database and when they were patched, according to the five former employees.

These people said the study concluded that even though the bugs in the database were used in ensuing hacking attacks, the perpetrators could have gotten the information elsewhere.

That finding helped justify Microsoft’s decision not to disclose the breach, the former employees said, and in many cases patches already had been released to its customers.

Three of the five former employees Reuters spoke with said the study could not rule out stolen bugs having been used in follow-on attacks.

“They absolutely discovered that bugs had been taken,” said one. “Whether or not those bugs were in use, I don’t think they did a very thorough job of discovering.”

That’s partly because Microsoft relied on automated reports from software crashes to tell when attacks started showing up. The problem with this approach, some security experts say, is that most sophisticated attacks do not cause crashes, and the most targeted machines – such as those with sensitive government information – are the least likely to allow automated reporting.

Editing by Jonathan Weber and Edward Tobin