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Paradise gone, wildfire evacuees faced with rebuilding their lives

In the tally of death and destruction from California's Camp fire, officials confirm that 56 people died, 130 are missing and 8,800 homes have been destroyed in the town of Paradise. Special correspondent Cat Wise reports from Chico, California, where a Walmart parking lot is now home to hundreds of evacuees who are left with nothing and unsure of where to go.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The tally of death and destruction keeps growing in the Northern California wildfires. Officials now confirm 56 dead, up to 300 missing, and 8,800 homes destroyed in and around the town of Paradise.

    Cat Wise reports from nearby Chico, where survivors have taken refuge.

  • Cat Wise:

    A Wal-Mart parking lot in Chico now home to hundreds of wildfire evacuees. Donated clothes and shoes have piled up in what is now a tent city, with daytime temperatures in the 40s.

    Matthew Flanagan is one of many who fled from nearby Paradise last week when the Camp Fire destroyed the town of 27,000 people.

  • Matthew Flanagan:

    There are more evacuees, more people running out of money for hotels. And families, they're staying with people, but they can't stay there forever. And we tried to get back up to see our houses yesterday, and they say it's going to be four months. So Paradise is gone.

  • Jennifer Fitzgerald:

    Everything I have ever known is gone. All my family and friends, all their houses and businesses.

  • Cat Wise:

    Jennifer Fitzgerald is here with her daughter, 7-year-old-Brooklyn. Fitzgerald worked as a house cleaner in Paradise, but her home burned and she didn't have renters insurance.

    Do you have any thoughts about the days ahead, what's going to happen to you?

  • Jennifer Fitzgerald:

    No. I have no clue, none. What can I — I can't really do — there's nothing to do. I mean, all the good — all the jobs are closed right now in Paradise, so I don't know what to do. It's hard.

  • Cat Wise:

    Last night, the two slept in a car borrowed from a friend.

  • Jennifer Fitzgerald:

    I'm just kind of bouncing around right now, staying in this car with my friends, at friends' house, family's house. It just depends where I'm at that day.

  • Cat Wise:

    And you have your daughter with you, Brooklyn, who's 7. How is she doing?

  • Jennifer Fitzgerald:

    She's OK. I don't think she really kind of knows what's going on yet. I mean, she does. But she keeps asking where her stuffs that and why she can't have it.

  • Cat Wise:

    Another woman, Loretta Goodwin, is caring for her grandson. She has nothing left, and is relying on donated diapers and stuffed animals.

  • Loretta Goodwin:

    We really thought we were going to go back. We should have got this, we should have got that. But, yes, it was heartbreaking.

  • Cat Wise:

    It will take years to rebuild this area. Like many others, Suzanne Kaksonen worries how she will afford a hotel or other temporary housing in the meantime.

  • Suzanne Kaksonen:

    I just want to go home. I don't even care if there's no home. I just want to go back to my dirt, you know, and put a trailer up and clean it up and get going. Sooner, the better. I don't want to wait six months.

  • Cat Wise:

    This makeshift shelter has so far been supplied and staffed by volunteers only. But winter weather will only worsen the conditions here.

  • Man:

    It's going to start raining shortly, and this is unsustainable if it's raining.

  • Cat Wise:

    The mental and physical health of evacuees are a growing concern as well. A layer of thick smoke still hangs over Paradise and surrounding communities. Officials say the ash and mix of toxic chemicals has created hazardous air quality conditions for the survivors.

    Meanwhile, fire crews are making progress. They have now contained 40 percent of the Camp Fire. And recovery teams continue searching the charred debris for bodies, with scores of people still missing.

    In Southern California, more than half of the fast-moving Woolsey Fire that burned through Malibu is now within containment lines. But just 35 miles northwest of Malibu, still another fire broke out this morning in the hills near Saticoy.

    President Trump will visit California on Saturday to meet with people displaced by the wildfires — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Cat, we see you're still at that Wal-Mart parking lot. You talked to so many people today. We heard from some of them just now. But what are some of the other people saying that you have talked to? What are they facing?

  • Cat Wise:

    That's right, Judy.

    We're still here at the Wal-Mart parking lot. And, frankly, the people we were meeting with today, many of them didn't have much before the wildfires, and they're really struggling now. We met with one older gentleman who told us he was a Vietnam vet and has COPD.

    He's really having a tough time of it now with the smoky air. For the most part, this camp has been run by volunteers. It is a bustling place at this point. But we're told by one of those volunteers who has, frankly, been here for almost a week that they're a bit frustrated that there hasn't been more of a government presence here.

    We learned a short while ago that they're actually going to be closing down this camp on Sunday, and part of the reason for that is they're very concerned about weather that's expected next week. It's expected to rain, and these tents behind me are actually in an area, I'm told, that floods after rain events.

    So they're going to be trying to shift people into Red Cross shelters around the area.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is it surprising that there isn't government help, that this is all volunteer at this point? Because I would think these people are in need of so many things.

  • Cat Wise:

    That's right, Judy.

    I mean, that's the case at this particular location. We just spoke a short while ago with a Butte County spokeswoman, who told us there have been plenty of donations. In fact, they're overwhelmed in many locations with donations.

    But at this point, they really need financial contributions, and they steered to us three organizations that are on the Butte County Web site, the North Valley Community Foundation, the Schools Fire Relief Fund, the United Way of Northern California Camp Fire Fund.

    But, of course, Judy, what's really needed now is shelter for these folks. And before the wildfires, there was a less than 2 percent vacancy rate in Butte County. So where all of these folks will be headed in the days and weeks ahead, that's very much up in the air at this point.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we can certainly hope at the very least, when people hear of these organizations, they will — some or many will reach out and make a contribution.

    Cat Wise, reporting for us from Chico, California, near where those terrible fires were, thank you, Cat.

  • Cat Wise:

    Thank you.

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