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Fire at California loft party kills at least 9, two dozen missing

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A massive fire broke out in Oakland, California, during a late-night party in a warehouse that housed artist studios, killing at least nine people and leaving about 25 missing, the city’s fire chief said on Saturday.

The blaze started at about 11:30 p.m. on Friday in the two-story warehouse in the city’s Fruitvale district, a mostly Latino area that is also home to many working artists living and working in converted warehouse lofts.

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Fire officials have not yet determined how the fire started or an exact number of fatalities in the blaze, said Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed, who called it the worst single-structure fire she had seen in her career.

An arson team has joined the investigation, although there is no immediate evidence that the fire was deliberating ignited, she said.

The roof of the warehouse collapsed during the fire, complicating efforts to recover bodies and investigate the circumstances surrounding the blaze, she said at a press briefing.

“There is a large majority of that building that has not been searched,” Reed said, pointing out that some of the 25 missing people may be among the nine confirmed victims.

“We are hoping that the number nine is what there is and that there are no more,” the fire chief said, referring to the number of known fatalities.

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Some of those who were missing may have brought themselves to the hospital or elsewhere, she said, adding she did not know how many people were at the party or how many lived on the premises.

At an Alameda County Sheriff’s Office station not far from the fire, about a dozen people were waiting on Saturday for updates from authorities.

“I don’t have high hopes,” said a woman who had four friends among the missing, declining to give her name. She did not herself attend the dance party, but described herself as shocked and devastated. “We’ve just spent night calling hospitals and listening to police scanners.”

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MAKESHIFT STUDIOS

The warehouse housed makeshift artist studios carved out with curtains and other partitions, the fire chief said. The interior was cluttered with “a flea market of items,” she said. There was no evidence of any smoke detectors in the building.

The structure had only a single point of entry or exit from the second floor, where most of the dead were found, the chief said. A makeshift staircase appeared to be constructed from pallets.

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A Facebook event page showed 176 people planned to attend the party, which featured a performance by the electronic music act Golden Donna.

Parents and others shared contact information on the page and asked anyone with information about missing children and friends to call: “ANY information please!” wrote a woman looking for her son.

Video footage posted on social media showed the structure engulfed in flames and encircled by fire vehicles pumping water into the building.

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(Additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida, and David Bailey in Minneapolis; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Alistair Bell)


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In a secluded region in Russia’s Arctic they are rejecting Putin in rare protest

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Lyudmila Laptander, an activist advocating autonomy for her mineral-rich Nenets region in the Russian Arctic, worries authorities are planning to sacrifice its traditions for the promise of economic enrichment.

"If Nenets is merged with another region, I worry that no one will look after our language or our traditions, and that our small villages in the tundra will be forgotten," said Laptander, 61, a member of the Yasavey cultural group.

The autonomous region on the edge of the Arctic Ocean was gripped by protests in May against the government's plans to integrate it with neighbouring Arkhangelsk.

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People are paying to hire this donkey to crash their Zoom meetings

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The coronavirus pandemic has led millions of people to embrace meetings via Zoom, but admittedly, those can be as tedious as in-person conferences.

So one animal sanctuary in Canada, in dire need of cash after being forced to close to visitors, found a way to solve both problems.

Meet Buckwheat, a donkey at the Farmhouse Garden Animal Home, who is ready to inject some fun into your humdrum work-from-home office day -- for a price.

"Hello. We are crashing your meeting, we are crashing your meeting -- this is Buckwheat," says sanctuary volunteer Tim Fors, introducing the gray and white animal on a Zoom call.

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Republican senators are suddenly trying to social distance — from Trump

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There’s something interesting in today’s news:

A number of Republican Senators have said they are skipping the Republican National Convention this year. The convention was originally scheduled in Charlotte, North Carolina, but at Trump’s insistence was relocated to Jacksonville, Florida, last month. The stated reason was that Democratic North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper would not commit to permitting a full convention out of concerns about the spread of coronavirus, but the abrupt switch to Florida, less than 80 days before the convention, still seems odd to me. Regardless, the switch has created a new problem: Florida is in the midst of a dramatic spike in coronavirus cases, setting a record for new cases in a single day during the weekend —11,458—and running low of ICU beds.

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