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Death toll rises to 12 in London’s Grenfell Tower fire

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LONDON — They banged on windows, screamed for help, dropped children from smoky floors in a desperate attempt to save them. Terrified residents of the Grenfell Tower said there was little warning of the inferno that engulfed their high-rise apartment building and left 12 people dead — a toll that officials said would almost certainly rise.

The blaze early Wednesday in the 24-story building in west London’s North Kensington district also injured 74 others, 18 of them critically, and left an unknown number missing. A tenants’ group had complained for years about the risk of a fire.

More than 200 firefighters worked through the night and were still finding pockets of fire inside later in the day. A huge plume of smoke wafted across the London skyline and left a burned-out hulk in the working class, multi-ethnic neighborhood.

“In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never, ever seen anything of this scale,” Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said.

Up to 600 people lived in 120 apartments in the Grenfell Tower. After announcing the updated death toll of 12 in the afternoon, Cmdr. Stuart Cundy said that “we believe this number will sadly increase.”

Crews rescued 65 people, said Steve Apter, the fire brigade’s director of safety and assurance.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said she was “deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life” in the fire.

“My thoughts are with the victims, their families and all of those who had their homes destroyed,” she said. “It’s impossible to comprehend the horror of what they’ve been going through.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said many questions must be answered about safety for the scores of other apartment blocks around the British capital.

The London Fire Brigade said it received the first reports of the blaze at 12:54 a.m. and the first engines arrived within six minutes.

Survivors told of frantic attempts to escape during the nighttime fire. Some initially feared it was terrorism-related, although authorities have not suggested that terrorism was involved.

“The flames, I have never seen anything like it. It just reminded me of 9/11,” said Muna Ali, 45. “The fire started on the upper floors. … Oh my goodness, it spread so quickly. It had completely spread within half an hour.”

Samira Lamrani said she saw a woman drop a baby from a window on the ninth or 10th floor to people on the sidewalk.

“People were starting to appear at the windows, frantically banging and screaming,” Lamrani told Britain’s Press Association news agency.

When the woman indicated she was going to drop the infant, “a gentleman ran forward and managed to grab the baby,” she added.

Joe Walsh, 58, said he saw someone toss two children out a window on the fifth or sixth floor. Tiago Etienne, 17, said he saw about three children between the ages of 4 and 8 being dropped from around the 15th floor. There was no word on their fate.

Other residents told harrowing tales of their own escapes and frustration at not being able to help neighbors.

Ruks Mamudu, 69, said she ran to safety down one flight of stairs to the ground floor from her apartment wearing only her purple pajamas and bathrobe. She and her grandson sat outside the building, helplessly watching those trapped on higher floors.

“I sat there watching my house burn down and watching people cry for help who couldn’t come down,” Mamudu said.

Nassima Boutrig, who lives across from the building, said she was awakened by sirens and smoke so thick that it filled her home as well.

“We saw the people screaming,” she said. “A lot of people said, ‘Help! Help! Help!’ The fire brigade could only help downstairs. … They couldn’t stop the fire.”

Resident Hamid Wahbi said that as he fled, he asked about a neighbor’s father but was told he was still inside.

“We tried to go back, but it was all black, so I had to come out of the building,” Wahbi added.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the blaze, but the Grenfell Action Group has been warning about the risk of fire at Grenfell Tower since 2013.

Edward Daffarn, who lived on the 16th floor, said the building’s fire alarm didn’t ring. He said residents had complained for years to Kensington and Chelsea Council about the building’s safety, to no avail.

“I’m lucky to be alive. A neighbor’s smoke alarm went off and another neighbor phoned and told me to get out,” Daffarn said. “I consider this mass murder.”

The Action Group expressed concern about the testing and maintenance of firefighting equipment and blocked emergency access to the site. In a Nov. 20 blog, the group predicted that only “a catastrophic event” leading to “serious loss of life” would bring the outside scrutiny needed to make conditions safe for residents.

“All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable,” the group said after the fire broke out.

The Kensington and Chelsea Council, which oversees the area where the fire occurred, said in a statement its immediate focus was helping victims and their families. It said the cause of the blaze would be “fully investigated.”

Built in the 1970s, the housing block was recently upgraded at a cost of 10 million pounds ($12.8 million), with work finishing in May 2016, according to the local council. Rydon, the British company that did the refurbishing, said in a statement that its work “met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards.”

Britain’s government ordered checks at tower blocks going through similar refurbishment amid concerns that renovations at the Grenfell Tower contributed to the spread of the blaze. It was not immediately known if the building had a sprinkler system.

Authorities will “seek to identify towers that might have a similar process of refurbishment, run a system of checks so that we can, as quickly as possible, give reassurance to people,” said Policing and Fire Minister Nick Hurd.

The Grenfell tenants’ organization’s newsletter instructs residents to stay put in a fire unless the blaze is in their own apartment or in their hallway — the same guidance used in multistory hotels and other high-rise buildings. The organization’s July 2014 newsletter said Grenfell “was designed according to rigorous fire safety standards.”

Neighbors began helping survivors with clothing, food and water as well as offering shelter.

Churches and a nearby mosque served as gathering points for donations for those who raced out of the burning building with little else than what they were wearing. Social media sites joined the effort, with some Londoners offering a space on their sofas for those affected by the blaze.

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Colorado

Expect more bigger, more damaging hail storms as they hit areas with growing populations

limate change will make the atmosphere more moist, but the effect that will have on hailstones isn’t clear experts aren’t clear.

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BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Hailstorms inflict billions of dollars in damage yearly in North America alone, and the cost will rise as the growing population builds more homes, offices and factories, climate and weather experts said Tuesday.

The role of climate change in hailstorms is harder to assess, the experts said at a conference at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Climate change will likely make large hailstorms worse, but population growth is more of a certainty, said Andreas Prein, a climate modeling scientist at the atmospheric research center.

“We know pretty certain that we will have more people in the future, and they will have more stuff, and this stuff can be damaged,” Prein said. “I think this component is more certain than what we can say about climate change at the moment.”

This year is expected to be the 11th in a row in which the damage from severe storms exceeds $10 billion in the United States, and 70 percent of that cost comes from hail, said Ian Giammanco, a research meteorologist for the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.

“It’s such a huge driver of the dollar loss each year,” he said.

Costs are rising in the U.S. because homes are getting bigger, from about 1,700 square feet (139 square meters) in the early 1980s to 2,500 square feet (232 square meters) in 2015, he said. New subdivisions also pack homes in more tightly, Giammanco said.

“So it’s a bigger target for hailstorms to hit,” he said.

The effects of climate change on hail and the resulting damage are harder to calculate because hailstorms require distinct ingredients, and global warming affects them in different ways, Prein said.

To form, hailstorms require moisture, an updraft, variable winds and freezing temperatures at lower levels of the storm cloud, he said.

Updrafts lift water droplets into the clouds, where they attract other droplets and freeze together, scientists say. Winds of varying speed and direction keep the droplets suspended in the cloud long enough to grow into hailstones. When they eventually fall, freezing temperatures in the cloud keep them from melting before they hit warmer air closer to the ground.

Climate change will likely increase updrafts, helping hailstones form, Prein said.

But it will inhibit two hail-producing conditions, he said. Warmer temperatures will expand higher into the atmosphere, so falling hailstones have more time to melt before hitting the ground. And differences in wind speed and direction will subside, he said.

Climate change will make the atmosphere more moist, but the effect that will have on hailstones isn’t clear, he said.

Kristen Rasmussen, an assistant professor at Colorado State University, said the combined effects of climate change will probably inhibit the number of weaker storms but increase the number of severe ones.

“So we actually think that’s why we’re seeing a decrease in the number of weak to moderate storms and an increase in the most severe storms,” she said. “If those storms are able to break through this inhibition, they … have the potential to be more severe, and they can tap into more energy when they do so.”

The researchers said they need more data to understand the relationship between climate change and hailstorms. Improved science could also help predict hailstorms and calculate risks better, they said.

The Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the Andes in South America and the Himalayas all have conditions that make them hotspots for hail, Rasmussen said.

A May 2017 hailstorm in the Denver area caused $2.3 billion in insurance losses. Last week, hail injured 14 people in Colorado Springs and killed at least five animals at the city zoo. Damage estimates were still being compiled.

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Wyoming officials oppose SecDef Mattis on returning war-trophy to the Philippines

Wyoming officials contest the Department of Defense calling the return of The Bells of Balangiga of a “national security interest of the United States.”

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The United States should not return church bells seized as war trophies from the Philippines over a century ago, Wyoming’s congressional delegation said Monday.

It’s a position Wyoming officials have repeated often over the years amid reports the Bells of Balangiga were to be repatriated. This time, however, the U.S. Defense Department appears intent on following through.

Defense Secretary James Mattis wrote members of Congress over the weekend saying it was “in the national security interest of the United States” to return the bells.

Two of the Bells of Balangiga are at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The third is with the U.S. Army in South Korea.

U.S. Army soldiers took the bells following an attack on the island of Samar in which 48 American troops were killed in 1901.

“These bells are memorials to American war dead and should not be transferred to the Philippines,” the all-Republican delegation made up of U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, said in a joint statement Monday.

Most U.S. veterans oppose returning the bells to the Philippines and the delegation opposes any effort by President Donald Trump’s administration to return the bells without veterans’ support, the statement said.

Groups including the American Legion and Republican Gov. Matt Mead opposed returning the bells when the idea came up in 2012, during President Barack Obama’s administration.

This time, the Defense Department consulted at length with veterans’ service organizations about possibly returning the bells, Mattis wrote.

Filipinos revere the bells as symbols of national pride and President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly called for their return. Fewer Filipino combatants died than the Americans in the Balangiga attack but perhaps five times more than the 4,200 Americans were killed over the course of the 1899-1902 Philippine-American War. The war also killed 100,000 or more civilians, according to some estimates.

U.S. Air Force officials didn’t respond to a message seeking comment Monday.

The two bells in Wyoming followed a U.S. Army infantry regiment based on Samar during the U.S. occupation. The 11th Infantry arrived in 1904 at Fort D.A. Russell, which in 1930 became Fort Francis E. Warren and in 1949 F.E. Warren Air Force Base.

The third bell followed the 9th Infantry to Camp Red Cloud in South Korea.

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Ontario to allow online cannabis sales this fall, in-stores starting 2019

Ontario allowing cannabis sales in private retail stores April 1.

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TORONTO (AP) — Canada’s most populous province said Monday it will allow the online sale of pot this fall and the sale of cannabis in private retail stores next April.

Marijuana will be legal across Canada on Oct. 17. In the meantime, its provinces are working out issues concerning regulations.

Ontario’s new conservative government announced it is scrapping the previous administration’s plan to allow pot sales only in government-run stores — a model of public ownership that is unusual in the U.S. No U.S. state owns marijuana retail outlets.

Ontario will allow cannabis to be purchased online through a government run website when legalization takes effect in three months. Pot won’t be in stores until April 1.

Private store models are also being implemented in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“The government of Ontario will not be in the business of running physical cannabis stores,” Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said. “Instead, we will work with private sector businesses to build a safe, reliable retail system that will divert sales away from the illegal market.”

Fedeli said municipalities will be able to opt out of hosting any cannabis shops initially.

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Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

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One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.

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