News Wrap: Strong wind driving California wildfires subsides

May 15, 2014 at 6:02 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gusty winds in Southern California died down today, and that gave firefighters a window of opportunity to bring nine wildfires under better control. The fires started Tuesday and burned through more than 9,000 acres in San Diego County. The fast-moving flames burned several dozen homes, forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate, and closed schools. Fire officials said the dry conditions are the worst they have seen this early in the year.

NICK SCHULER, Battalion Chief, Cal Fire: You can tell it’s extremely hot, it’s dry. We’re early in May. We have a long fire season ahead of us, but know that we still have a lot of work to do here, days of work ahead of us, not only on this fire and the fires that occurred in the past several days, but the potential new fires that could start in the next several days to come.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Also in California, 10,000 gallons of crude oil sprayed into the streets of Los Angeles last night after a pipe burst. Oil spewed 20 feet in the air and was knee-high in some places before the line was shut off. An environmental cleaning company vacuumed up most of the oil. And crews put down absorbent material to sop up the rest.

GWEN IFILL: Stocks took a dive on Wall Street today on mixed economic news. The one bright spot was the Labor Department’s report that the number of people filing for unemployment benefits fell to its lowest level in seven years. But the Dow Jones industrial average lost 167 points to close above 16,446; the Nasdaq fell 31 points to close at 4,069; and the S&P 500 dropped more than 17 points to finish above 1,870.

JUDY WOODRUFF: General Motors recalled almost three million vehicles today, bringing the company’s total this year to more than 11 million. The five recalls just issued are for problems with brake lights, headlamps, power brakes, and windshield wipers. The affected cars were sold mostly in the U.S. GM is in the midst of a major safety review after disclosing it had waited years before recalling cars with faulty ignition switches linked to 13 deaths.

GWEN IFILL: Trade unions in Turkey staged a one-day strike to protest what is now the country’s worst mining disaster. The death toll rose to 283 three as rescue teams kept up their search for bodies in the coal mine in Soma in Western Turkey.

We have a report from Dan Rivers of Independent Television News.

DAN RIVERS, ITN: The soil under which the miners of Soma spent their lives toiling has carefully been prepared to accommodate their bodies. The families are still reeling from the catastrophe underground that has robbed this community of its heart.

The coffins arrived throughout the day, each borne aloft by dozens of relatives, pride at the men who earned their living in such dangerous conditions, profound grief that they ultimately have paid for it with their lives.

Almas Yilderem lost her son Kader and is inconsolable. He was just 33. His name means fate, but his family surely never expected his life to end so young.

WOMAN (through interpreter): This is a manmade disaster. It’s not the first time. It’s not the fifth time. Every year, we have an accident in Soma. Why don’t they close it down?

DAN RIVERS: As we film, another member of the family is overcome with grief. The burden of the day is too much to bear.

This is the awful reality behind the death toll, row after row of freshly dug graves, the harrowing scenes of families saying their last farewell after a disaster that is on a scale difficult to comprehend.

These images have touched Turks across the country, a nation reeling from the scale of the loss in Soma.

ASLI DAGLI: Until now, everyone just knows numbers. And a number is — no matter what it represents, it is a number. But when it comes to seeing the graves that the people are being carried into it, and the soil covering the bodies, it is terrible.

DAN RIVERS: But, in several Turkish cities, shock has given way to anger. This was Izmir, a bastion of anti-government sentiment. In an already volatile country, this disaster and the government’s reaction is fueling instability.

There are many who think these deaths were preventable, who feel the mine’s poor safety record was ignored. But while the politics of this disaster will rumble on for years, the people of Soma are still numb with shock.

GWEN IFILL: What exactly caused the fire in the mine is still under investigation. Initial reports suggested it was an electrical fault.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary of State John Kerry today warned Syria may have used chlorine in gas attacks on its own people. That comes two days after his French counterpart reported the regime used chemical weapons, including chlorine, in 14 small-scale attacks in recent weeks.

Kerry, alongside the British foreign minister, also called Syria’s upcoming presidential election a farce.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: We start in one unified voice with rejecting any notion whatsoever that the elections that the Assad regime has called somehow have any legitimacy whatsoever. There is no way for this illegitimate effort, for this impossible set of circumstances for an election to somehow give legitimacy where there is none.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in Syria today, amateur video captured an enormous explosion at a small military base in the northwest. Activists said rebel fighters packed a huge amount of explosives in a tunnel beneath the facility near Idlib province. They said at least 20 Syrian government soldiers were killed.

GWEN IFILL: The captain of that capsized South Korean ferry was charged with homicide today, along with three other crew members. They fled the ship while it was sinking, before most of the passengers could evacuate. At least 284 people died in last month’s disaster. Most were high school students. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Afghanistan set the date for a runoff election in its presidential race. It’s June 14. Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah won 45 percent of the vote in the first round of voting, but that’s not enough for an outright win. His nearest challenger is ex Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. The runoff coincides with the height of the Taliban’s spring offensive, increasing security concerns for the vote.

GWEN IFILL: Up to 21 people have now died in anti-China riots in Vietnam. A doctor said most of the victims were Chinese. A huge mob attacked a steel plant in the central Ha Tinh province overnight. It was torched during fighting between Vietnamese and Chinese workers. The two countries are engaged in a territorial standoff involving a Chinese oil rig in a disputed area of the South China Sea. A Chinese military general insisted today the rig is in Chinese waters.