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Over 600 People Still Missing In California Wildfires


The worst wildfires in California history are still burning. At least 71 people have died, but that number is almost certain to rise because over a thousand people are still reported to be missing.

Friends and family post anxious messages. They look for names on lists of evacuees. They put up photos and ask people to call. And they wait for answers.

Kristin Aquino has been looking for her uncle, Russell Anderson, for days. Her uncle lived in the town of Paradise, Calif., that was totally destroyed by fire. Her parents lived next door, and they are safe, but Kristin Aquino doesn't know about her uncle.

She joins us from her home in San Diego. And thank you for being with us.

KRISTIN AQUINO: Oh, thank you, Scott. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: And when's the last word you've heard from your uncle?

AQUINO: Well, we haven't heard from him since the fire that broke out on Thursday. My mom evacuated. When she evacuated, she saw that his truck was gone. But we do know he has family in Magalia, too, that, as far as I know, they haven't heard from him either. And we're worried, you know, if maybe he made his way over there to help them.

SIMON: What do you go through to try and find out whether your uncle is safe or not?

AQUINO: Well, we've been calling the local hospitals. We've been following social media, posting missing persons ads. I think my cousin and I are going to be trying to head up there in about a week if we haven't found him and post missing persons on our car and just sort of drive around the areas up there in hopes that maybe we'll get some word.

SIMON: What's he look like? What should we know about him?

AQUINO: He's a private man. He's lived in Paradise for over 40 years. He's very friendly. He's kind. Long hair, full beard. I guess he's about 5'10". Thin, maybe 160 to 170 - I would guess somewhere around there.

SIMON: Yeah. And how are your parents doing?

AQUINO: My parents are fine. My mom evacuated as soon as they got notice. My dad required an assisted evacuation. He actually ended up being rescued by a community service worker up there. He was trying to get out of Paradise on his motorized chair. He saw the community service worker, who managed to get him in the truck. And they escaped to the fire station using a hiking trail, actually.

SIMON: I assume if he could call you, he would, right?

AQUINO: Paradise is a retirement community. A majority of the population lives on a fixed income, including my uncle. He did not have a cellphone. He only had the landline. He didn't use social media.

SIMON: Yeah.

AQUINO: I'm sure that he had an old-fashioned-style phone book with people's numbers, which - his house - I didn't mention, but his house was confirmed to be burned to the ground, as well as my parents'.

SIMON: Yeah.

AQUINO: I did put a note. I marked my father and mother as safe and well on the Red Cross website. And I did put a note in my father's to say that we're looking for my uncle. And I left my phone number in hopes that if he's searching for my father on that site, that he might see the note and be able to contact us.

SIMON: You found the Red Cross website to be helpful, haven't you?

AQUINO: Yes, I have. We actually were able to locate my father using that site. I think if anybody's looking for a way to help, if they're nearby people that are searching for their loved ones that might not have access to a cellphone, that they could offer to help register people because I've been using that site to try to find my uncle, and he hasn't been registered yet.

SIMON: Kristin Aquino in San Diego, searching for her uncle, Russell Anderson. And if you're listening and have any information that might help Kristin or anyone searching for their loved ones, please call the Butte County Sheriff's Office. That number is 530-538-6570, 530-538-6570. Kristin, thanks so much.

AQUINO: Thank you, Scott.

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