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Dec. 4 2016 7:35 PM

Trump Slams China on Twitter Amid Debate Over Significance of Taiwan Call

Update: Amid debate over whether President-elect Donald Trump's call with Taiwan's president on Friday was meant to send a larger message to China, the soon-to-be leader of the free world took to Twitter to scoff at the idea that Beijing can have a say in U.S. foreign policy.

“Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!” Trump tweeted.

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The tweets sent out by the president-elect suggest the call with Taiwan was more than diplomatic courtesy and was meant to send a clear message to Beijing about how he would operate once in the White House.

Original post at 4:55 p.m.: An interesting dynamic played out Sunday as President-elect Donald Trump’s team tried to dismiss concerns about broader implications of Friday's call with the Taiwanese leader, while experts said that it would be too simplistic to shrug off the conversation as nothing but a rookie mistake from a rookie president. On the Sunday talk shows the rule of the game was laughing off the press for getting overly excited about the first known contact between a Taiwanese leader and a U.S. president or president-elect since 1979.

One of those responsible for dismissing speculation about the conversation was Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who said the whole thing was nothing but a “courtesy call.” Pence said the reaction to the call amounted to a “tempest in a teapot” that shouldn’t be seen as a sign of a broader shift in strategy. "I think I would just say to our counterparts in China that this was a moment of courtesy. The president-elect talked to President Xi two weeks ago in the same manner. It was not a discussion about policy," Pence said on NBC's Meet the Press.

Kellyanne Conway also joined the downplaying game even as she seemed to recognize that everyone would read into it whatever they wanted. “It was just a phone call at this point,” Conway said on Fox News Sunday. “It signals the fact that he accepted a congratulatory call. I know that China has a perspective on it, I know the White House and State Department probably have a perspective on it, and certainly Taiwan has a perspective on it, but the president-elect’s perspective is that he accepted a congratulatory call.”

Experts, however, seem to be increasingly saying this could be a sign of broader shifts in foreign policy that can be expected from a president-elect who was fond of anti-China rhetoric on the campaign trail. Trump’s team is filled with people who are friendly toward Taiwan and have been highly critical of the way President Obama’s administration has allowed Beijing to call the shots when it comes to Taipei’s relationship with Washington.

The Washington Post notes that China experts have been particularly pointing to a Foreign Policy article that called Taiwan a “beacon of democracy in Asia” as a hint of what may be to come. In the piece, Alexander Gray and Peter Navarro write:

The Obama administration’s treatment of Taiwan has been equally egregious. This beacon of democracy in Asia is perhaps the most militarily vulnerable U.S. partner anywhere in the world. As far back as 2010, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency warned that the balance of power in the skies above the Taiwan Strait was shifting toward Beijing. Yet Taiwan has been repeatedly denied the type of comprehensive arms deal it needs to deter China’s covetous gaze, despite the fact that such assistance is guaranteed by the legally binding Taiwan Relations Act.

Another thing that those in the know are making clear is that even if Trump made it seem on Twitter like he just happened to be around when President Tsai Ing-wen placed a call, the whole thing was much more calculated. Julia Famularo, an expert on the region, wrote on Twitter that the call was “planned weeks in advance by staffers … who want to address, amend counterproductive ‘protocols’.” This goes in line with what a Taiwanese government spokesman said after the call was made public.

“Maybe it was calculated—and perhaps even useful,” writes the Wall Street Journal in an editorial that says the lesson from the event is that the media shouldn’t “overreact to every break with State Department protocol as if it’s the start of World War III.”

For now, experts largely agree that it’s too soon to tell whether the call signaled a wider policy shift or was nothing more than a “complicated accident,” as one expert tells the Associated Press. Regardless though, the one thing that seems clear is “we are entering into an era of shoot-from-the-lip foreign policy,” David Rothkopf, chief executive and editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy, tells the Financial Times. “All of these calls have demonstrated a combination of ignorance and some sort of nascent policy position.” (Slate's Joshua Keating wrote that it's time to take Trump's phone away or else he may very well spark a major international crisis before even being sworn into office.)

Dec. 4 2016 7:33 PM

Italy’s Prime Minister Renzi Resigning After Brutal Loss in Crucial Referendum

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is keeping his promise to step down after suffering what by all accounts looks to have been a stinging defeat in his plan to reform the country’s constitution. According to exit polls at least, the result wasn’t even close and Renzi may have lost by as much as 20 points.

“I have lost,” Renzi said in a televised statement. “We gave the Italians an opportunity to change, but we didn’t succeed.” The prime minister will present his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella on Monday after two-and-a-half years in office.

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The euro plunged to a 20-month low as Renzi announced his resignation and the 41-year-old became the second European leader this year to lose his job amid a wave of populist sentiment and anti-European backlash. The Guardian explains:

The results will be seen as a clear rejection by voters of establishment politics in favor of populist and anti-immigrant forces, much as the UK’s vote in June to leave the European Union and the election last month of Donald Trump in the US were.

The referendum was regarding a proposal that Renzi said would have made Italy much more efficient and cut down on bureaucracy that has made it impossible for the government to pass much-needed economic reforms. But more than one policy though, the vote was largely seen as a referendum on Renzi himself. And the region—and the world—were watching closely to figure out whether populist and Euroskeptic parties had a future in Italy. It seems they do.

Matteo Salvini, who leads an anti-immigrant party, said that if the exit polls are confirmed it would mark a "victory of the people against the strong powers of three-quarters of the world.” Right-wing leaders across Europe celebrated the Italy vote. "The Italians have disavowed the EU and Renzi. We must listen to this thirst for freedom of nations," wrote France’s Marine Le Pen.

The results in Italy brought joy to the European right-wing that had earlier in the day suffered a setback in Austria, where a former leader of the Green party, Alexander Van der Bellen, beat the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer in the presidential election. The results were largely greeted with a sigh of relief from centrists and liberals who feared Austria was going to be the latest country to hand a victory to an anti-immigrant, populist leader.

Dec. 4 2016 6:00 PM

Standing Rock Wins Big Victory: Army Corps Blocks Dakota Access Pipeline Route

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shocked thousands of protesters who were camped out in protest in southern North Dakota when it announced on Sunday afternoon that it would not grant a permit to allow drilling under the Missouri River. In a statement, the Army Corps of Engineers said that it wouldn’t be granting the easement for the Dakota Access oil pipeline project to complete a segment underneath Lake Oahe, which is a water reservoir.

“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”

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The members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its supporters who had been protesting the planned pipeline for months erupted in jubilation as the news of the decision began to spread across the camp. “We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II. “The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all of Indian Country will be forever grateful to the Obama Administration for this historic decision.”

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Activists celebrate after learning of the denied easement on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Dec. 4, 2016, outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The move also quickly received praise from U.S. Secretary for the Interior Sally Jewell, who noted that this latest decision “ensures that there will be an in-depth evaluation of alternative routes for the pipeline and a closer look at potential impacts.” Jewell also pointed out that the move “underscores that tribal rights reserved in treaties and federal law, as well as Nation-to-Nation consultation with tribal leaders, are essential components of the analysis to be undertaken in the environmental impact statement going forward.”

Although tribal members and activists were celebrating their hard-fought victory, lawyers warned it was far from definitive. After all, the Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners can sue to overturn the decision, as it has long said it didn’t want to reroute the project. The CEO of the company, Kelcy Warren, said in November he was “100 percent sure” that Donald Trump’s administration would approve the pipeline regardless of what happened with the Army Corps.

The decision to halt the project came a day before a deadline set by the federal government for protesters to leave the main camp site which is on Army Corps land. But over the weekend, hundreds of military veterans arrived at the camp to express solidarity—and protect—the protest that has grown exponentially over the past few months.

The 1,172-mile Dakota Access oil pipeline that would carry 470,000 barrels per day was set to run within a half-mile of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, and opponents had long been saying it could pollute drinking water as well as disturb sacred tribal sites.

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Snow covers Oceti Sakowin Camp near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Nov. 30, 2016, outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Dec. 4 2016 3:17 PM

NY Subway Riders Stand By as Three Men Verbally Assault Muslim Teenager

Three white men who were apparently intoxicated repeatedly yelled anti-Islam insults at a Muslim student in the New York City subway and no one did anything. The men, who yelled “Donald Trump!” several times and even tried to pull off the terrified 18-year-old’s hijab, also accused her of being a terrorist. This all took place at around 10 p.m. on Thursday night on the 6 train as Yasmin Seweid was returning home from Baruch College.

“I heard them talk, but I had my headphones in, I wasn’t really listening, I had a long day. And they came closer and I distinctly heard them saying, ‘Donald Trump,’” she told the local CBS affiliate. Although there have been a spate of racist incidents across the United States since the election, this one was particularly shocking because it happened in New York and it seem no one tried to step in to help Seweid.

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“They were surrounding me from behind and they were like, ‘Oh look, it’s an f-ing terrorist,’” she said. “I didn’t answer. They pulled my strap of the bag and it ripped, and that’s when I turned around and I was really polite and I was like, ‘can you please leave me alone?’ and everyone was looking, no one said a thing, everyone just looked away.”  

She later wrote about the incident on Facebook: “It breaks my heart that so many individuals chose to be bystanders while watching me get harassed verbally and physically by these disgusting pigs.” Seweid said at the time she didn’t have much time to think but after the incident, the way no one came to her aid “made me really sad,” she told the New York Daily News. “People were looking at me and looking at what was happening and no one said a thing. They just looked away.”

This marks the latest in a growing wave of these types of incidents in New York and across the country (Slate is compiling a running list). From Nov. 8 through Nov. 27, New York law enforcement officials said there were 34 reported incidents, compared to 13 in the same period last year.

Dec. 4 2016 2:01 PM

Death Toll in Oakland Warehouse Fire Reaches 30, Likely to Keep Rising

Update at 4:40 p.m.: The death toll increased to 30 on Sunday afternoon as rescue workers pulled six more bodies from the converted warehouse in Oakland, California. Authorities said the number would likely keep increasing as rescue operations continued. “We are starting to get into areas of the building where we are finding more bodies,” Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said. “We are using shovels and buckets and sifting through debris, so that’s what’s taking so long.”

Original post: Rescue workers have pulled 24 bodies from a converted warehouse in Oakland, California, where a Friday night party turned into an inferno as flames quickly engulfed the precarious structure and trapped people inside. The death toll from the fire “will go up,” authorities said on Sunday morning a day after they publicly raised fears the number of fatalities could be as high as 40. The search for victims could take another two days as around 80 percent of the building is still to be searched, officials said.

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The cause of the fire at the building known as the “Ghost Ship” remains unknown but by all accounts the converted warehouse was nothing short of a death trap. City building inspectors were already investigating the building amid reports of illegal activity. An inspector even knocked on the door on Nov. 17, but no one answered.

It seems a husband-and-wife team ran the artists’ collective that also doubled as a work and living space and they may have even lived there with their three children. They were not at the building when the fire broke out. The couple collected between $300 and $600 in rent for space in a building that had few lights and water and electricity that were stolen from neighbors and often didn’t work. In addition to collecting rent money, they also organized parties and concerts in the space.

Former residents describe a structure that sounds like quite possibly one of the worst places you could find yourself in when a fire breaks out. “It was a tinderbox,” a 30-year-old who went to several parties at the space tells the Los Angeles Times.

A rickety makeshift staircase led to the second floor and there was so much stuff around that it was a challenge just to find your way, particularly for those who didn’t know the place well. "If you were not familiar with the building and the way that it was, if you were going there for a party, you wouldn't be aware of the maze that you have to go through to get out," a former friend of the couple who ran the warehouse said.

In a Facebook post that has been widely criticized, Derick Ion, who the East Bay Times identifies as Derick Alemany, the male partner in the couple that ran the converted warehouse, wrote: “Everything I worked so hard for is gone. Blessed that my children and Micah were at a hotel safe and sound. … it’s as if I have awoken from a dream filled with opulence and hope … to be standing now in poverty of self-worth.”

The daughter of the owner of the warehouse tells the Los Angeles Times the building was meant to be studio space for an art collective and not a residence. She said she had heard complaints and brought up the issue to the renters but they always denied the warehouse was used as a dwelling. “They confirmed multiple times,” Eva Ng said. “They said sometimes some people worked through the night, but that is all.” One former resident who spent four or five months at the space said that as soon as she moved in she was ordered to tell any visitors that it was a workspace for artists.

Considering all the red flags it’s difficult to understand how no one did anything about the space sooner, notes the East Bay Times in an editorial:

Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo had received numerous complaints about parties at the building and illegal dumping on the property. What happened to those complaints?
Inspectors last month had supposedly launched an investigation of garbage piling up on the adjoining lot. That turned into a probe of an illegal interior building structure.
When inspectors returned on Nov. 17, they couldn’t get inside. That was 15 days before the fire broke out. What happened since then? Did the inspectors return? Gallo says they apparently didn’t try.
And what of those who walked into this death trap on Friday night? Many were young, in their 20s and 30s. Did they not sense danger in this makeshift party venue?

Dec. 4 2016 12:41 PM

Trump Warns Companies That Move Abroad Will Face 35 Percent Tax as “Retribution”

President-elect Donald Trump went on a bit of a tweetstorm Sunday morning, making clear any companies that move operations abroad during his administration would be making a “very expensive mistake.” Why? They would then have to pay higher import tariffs of 35 percent to get their goods back in the United States.

The message was hardly a surprise as it had long been part of Trump's campaign platform. But in a series of six Twitter posts Sunday morning, Trump made clear he intends to move forward with the plan even as he picks free-market-loving Wall Street insiders for key posts in his administration who almost surely think this is a terrible idea.

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Trump began his Twitter message with the carrot, saying the United States will “substantially reduce taxes and regulations on businesses.” It didn’t take long to get to the stick: “but any business that leaves our country for another country, fires its employees, builds a new factory or plant in the other country, and then thinks it will sell its product back into the U.S, without retribution or consequence, is WRONG!”

Days after Trump traveled to Indiana to tout a deal that pushed Carrier to keep around 1,000 jobs in the United States, the president-elect warned “there will be a tax on our soon to be strong border of 35% for these companies” that go abroad and expect to sell their products back into the U.S.

During his speech at the Carrier plant on Thursday, Trump warned “companies are not going to leave the United States anymore without consequences. Not going to happen.” At the time he didn’t detail what those consequences would be, but his tweets on Sunday made clear he is sticking with the plans he outlined in the campaign. The president-elect said that he was sending out the tweets so that companies could “be forewarned prior to making a very expensive mistake.”

As the New York Times points out, it wasn’t threat of a higher tariff that pushed Carrier to keep jobs in the United states, but rather the $7 million in fiscal incentives that Indiana vowed to provide. That led to criticism both from the right and the left that said the deal amounted to the government getting involved in the free market and corporate welfare, respectively.

Trump’s threats came shortly after he turned his focus to another Indiana company planning to move jobs to Mexico. “Rexnord of Indiana is moving to Mexico and rather viciously firing all of its 300 workers,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

That message drew a rebuke from Bernie Sanders: “What are you going to do, @realDonaldTrump? Stand up for working people or give the company a massive tax break?”

Speaking to ABC News on Sunday, Vice President-elect Mike Pence seemed to imply Trump will continue to be involved in pushing companies to stay in the United States. Trump will decide whether to get involved with trying to get other companies to keep jobs in the United States “on a day-by-day basis,” Pence said. “He’s going to put on the table all the tools that are going to take away the advantages of companies that for far too long have been pulling up stakes, leaving American workers behind,” he added.

Dec. 4 2016 11:23 AM

Jill Stein Refuses to Pay $1 Million Bond for Pennsylvania Recount, Goes to Federal Court

The Green Party’s Jill Stein is changing tactics in Pennsylvania, dropping a call for a recount in the state court in order to pursue the effort in federal court. Why? At least in part because it was just too expensive. Even though Stein has raised more than $7 million for her recount effort, the Green Party said that it will not post the $1 million bond required by the court.

“Petitioners are regular citizens of ordinary means,” notes the filing that withdrew the lawsuit filed with the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. “They cannot afford to post the $1,000,000 bond required by the Court.” The court set the $1 million after lawyers representing President-elect Donald Trump called for a $10 million bond.

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The campaign said on Saturday night it would seek an emergency federal court order for a state-wide recount. "Make no mistake — the Stein campaign will continue to fight for a statewide recount in Pennsylvania," recount campaign lawyer Jonathan Abady said in a statement. "We are committed to this fight to protect the civil and voting rights of all Americans."

Stein also took to Twitter on Saturday night to explain the decision: "On Monday, I will escalate #Recount2016 in PA and file to demand a statewide recount on constitutional grounds. The people deserve answers."

It’s unclear exactly why Stein’s campaign sees the bond as prohibitively expensive but on the recount campaign’s donation page it estimated that the Pennsylvania recount would cost $500,000 excluding legal fees. On Twitter, Stein called demands for the $1 million bond “outrageous” because “PA voters are worried about the accuracy, security and fairness of an election tainted by suspicion.”

Whatever the reasons, the Republican Party saw the move as a big win. Lawrence J. Tabas, the general counsel of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, said the withdrawal served as “recognition” that the Stein-led effort was “completely without merit,” reports the New York Times. Efforts at recounts in a several key precincts are continuing.

In parallel efforts, Wisconsin’s recount began on Thursday and another one in Michigan could begin as early as this week although it has become mired in legal challenges.  

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Connie Tews counts ballots in Kenosha, Wisconsin on December 2, 2016.

VNEWS INTERNATIONAL LLC/AFP/Getty Images

Dec. 4 2016 9:08 AM

Donald Trump Has Now Criticized “Biased” SNL Three Times on Twitter

President-elect Donald Trump may be reportedly shooing away national security briefings because he’s just too busy, but he certainly seems to have time to hate-watch Saturday Night Live. The president-elect knows he won’t like the show (or does he think Alec Baldwin will suddenly start playing him like a working-class hero?) but he seemingly can’t help to tune in. So it was yet again this weekend. If we didn’t know any better we’d think SNL baited Trump, doing a whole sketch on how the president-elect can’t stop tweeting (or more specifically retweeting random Twitter users) just to see how he’d react.

Sure enough, Donald Trump took the bait and he didn’t even wait to sleep on it. Barely an hour after the show had aired, Trump went on twitter to call SNL “unwatchable” “totally biased,” and “not funny.”

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This marked the third time in two months that Trump went on Twitter to specifically blast a comedy show that pokes fun at him. The first time came when he was campaigning to be the leader of the free world: “Watched Saturday Night Live hit job on me.Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks.”

The second time came after Trump had already won the election. Sure, he may be the most powerful man in the country but he simply couldn’t let go Baldwin playing him as a clueless leader who had to Google ISIS and back away from his campaign promises.” I watched parts of @nbcsnl Saturday Night Live last night,” he wrote. “It is a totally one-sided, biased show - nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?”

The difference between the past two times that Trump criticized the show while campaigning for (and then becoming) leader of the free world? Baldwin offered to give up his impersonation—with one tiny condition. Through his foundation’s Twitter account, Baldwin wrote: “Release your tax returns and I’ll stop. Ha.”

Dec. 3 2016 4:08 PM

Sarah Palin Blasts Trump’s Carrier Deal as Example of “Crony Capitalism”

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was an early supporter of Donald Trump and is now reportedly being considered to serve in his Cabinet, doesn’t seem to be a big fan of the deal that pushed an Indiana-based air conditioner company to keep almost 1,000 jobs in Indianapolis rather than moving them to Mexico. In a column for the website Young Conservatives, Palin said that while the details of the deal aren’t known there are enough red flags to question whether the agreement isn’t just another example of “crony capitalism.”

“When government steps in arbitrarily with individual subsidies, favoring one business over others, it sets inconsistent, unfair, illogical precedent,” Palin wrote. “Meanwhile, the invisible hand that best orchestrates a free people’s free enterprise system gets amputated. Then, special interests creep in and manipulate markets. Republicans oppose this, remember? Instead, we support competition on a level playing field, remember? Because we know special interest crony capitalism is one big fail.”

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Just because the government may have the best interest of workers at heart, Republicans should be working toward decreasing government interference in the economy. "However well meaning, burdensome federal government imposition is never the solution. Never. Not in our homes, not in our schools, not in churches, not in businesses," Palin wrote. "Gotta’ have faith the Trump team knows all this."

Throughout the piece, Palin praises the free market and warns that when the government favors one company over another, the economy as a whole is “doomed” because politicians shouldn’t play favorites. “Political intrusion using a stick or carrot to bribe or force one individual business to do what politicians insist, versus establishing policy incentivizing our ENTIRE ethical economic engine to roar back to life, isn’t the answer,” Palin writes.

Dec. 3 2016 3:11 PM

As Many As 40 Feared Killed in Oakland Warehouse-Rave Fire

At least nine people were killed when a fire broke out during an electronic-music party at a converted warehouse in Oakland, California, on Friday night. Around 25 people remained missing as of Saturday morning, but rescue efforts had been delayed because of concerns over safety of the building. The roof of the converted warehouse that hosted the Friday-night party had caved in, making rescue efforts difficult, according to local officials. Now drones with thermal imaging will be sent into the building to assist with the efforts.

The fire, which broke out around three miles from downtown Oakland, was first reported at 11:30 p.m. on Friday night. More than 70 firefighters battled the blaze, although they largely had to do so from outside the building, because the fire was too hot and intense inside. It took almost four hours to get the fire under control.

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“We still have to do a more thorough search of the building and we don’t know the potential number of other victims,” Fire Chief Teresa Deloach-Reed said. Most of the nine bodies were found on the second floor, which people could apparently get to through what was a “makeshift stairwell.” That stairwell will likely be a particular focus of any investigations into what led up to the tragedy.

“One of the issues was that leading up to the second floor there was only one way up and down,” the fire chief told reporters. “It was my understanding that the stairwell was kind of makeshift, that they put it together with pallets.”

The building, which is an artists’ collective, didn’t have any sprinklers, and firefighters didn’t hear any smoke detectors going off when they arrived at the scene, the fire chief said. Rescue operations were also complicated by the sheer amount of stuff around. “It filled end-to-end with furniture, whatnot, collections,” Deloach-Reed said. “It was like a maze almost.”

There also may not have been any working fire extinguishers. “It was too hot, too much smoke, I had to get out of there,” Bob Mule, a photographer and artist who lives at the building told the East Bay Times. “I literally felt my skin peeling and my lungs being suffocated by smoke. I couldn’t get the fire extinguisher to work.”

As rescue operations continued, the party’s Facebook page has become a hub of information for people trying to find out whether their loved ones are safe.

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