Thursday, 30 April 2015

Rain hampers Nepal rescue efforts

Rescue teams toiled in pouring rain on Thursday in the debris left by last week’s devastating earthquake in Nepal, but officials said the chances of finding any more survivors was bleak as the death toll neared 5,500.

While rescue teams were out in the capital Kathmandu despite the rain, helicopters could not fly to the worst-hit areas in the countryside of the impoverished Himalayan nation.

“There may not be any more survivors,” said Rameshwor Dandal, chief of the disaster management centre at Nepal’s Home Ministry. “The rain is adding to the problems. Nature seems to be against us.”

Anger over the slow pace of the rescue flared on Wednesday with protests outside parliament. In the interior, villagers blocked trucks carrying supplies, demanding the government do more to hasten the distribution of aid that has flooded into the country but has been slow to reach those in need.

An official from the Home Ministry said the number of confirmed deaths from Saturday’s earthquake had risen to 5,489 by Thursday morning. Almost 11,000 were injured, and more than 80 were also killed in neighbouring India and Tibet.

Many people have been sleeping in the open after the quake — the United Nations has said 600,000 houses were destroyed or damaged. It has said eight million people have been affected, with at least two million in need of tents, water, food and medicines over the next three months.

Mr. Dandal said foreign rescue teams had told him that their work is almost done because there is little chance of finding any survivors.

A Nepali-French rescue team pulled a 28-year-old man, Rishi Khanal, from a collapsed apartment block in Kathmandu on Tuesday after he had spent around 80 hours trapped in a room with three dead bodies.

However, doctors amputated one of his legs on Wednesday because of damage from prolonged internal bleeding.

Nepal is appealing to foreign governments for more helicopters. There are currently about 20 Nepali Army, private and Indian Army helicopters involved in rescue operations, according to Laxmi Prasad Dhakal, a Home Ministry official. China is expected to send helicopters on Thursday, he said.

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala has told Reuters the death toll could reach 10,000, with information on casualties and damage from far-flung villages and towns yet to come in.

That would surpass the 8,500 who died in a 1934 earthquake, the last disaster on this scale to hit the nation of 28 million people sandwiched between India and China.

Worry of disease

In Kathmandu and other cities, hospitals quickly overflowed with injured soon after the quake, with many being treated out in the open or not at all.

Guna Raj, who works for a Kathmandu-based NGO specialising in providing sanitation, said there have been outbreaks of diarrhoea in relief camps because of a shortage of toilets and clean water.

“In the next few days or weeks I am sure there will be an outbreak of epidemics,” said Mr. Raj, who is involved in the relief effort. Tensions between foreigners and Nepalis desperate for relief surfaced, rescuers said, as fresh avalanches were reported in several areas.

Members of Israeli search-and-rescue group Magnus said hundreds of tourists, including about 100 Israelis, were airlifted out of Langtang in Rasuwa district, a popular trekking area north of Kathmandu hit by an avalanche on Tuesday. But at least two foreigners, whose nationalities were as yet unknown, were found dead, the Home Ministry said.

Fights had broken out there because of food shortages, Magnus team member Amit Rubin said. One of the trekkers said there had also been scuffles over places on the rescue helicopters.

The quake also triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest that killed at least 18 climbers and guides, including four foreigners, the worst disaster on the world’s highest peak.

Thursday 30 April 2015

continue reading

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Mozambique plane crash victims buried

The unidentified remains of those killed when a Mozambican plane crashed in northern Namibia in November 2013, were buried at the Gammams Cemetery in Pionierspark yesterday morning.

The aircraft crashed in the Bwabwata National Park in the Zambezi region in November 2013, while flying from Maputo to Luanda in Angola. There were 27 passengers and 6 crew members on board when the plane crashed, killing all on board.

The event was attended by officials of the Mozambican LAM airline and the managing director of Avbob Namibia, the funeral parlour that carried out the burials.

A Muslim cleric and a Christian pastor conducted services before the six coffins containing the remains of the deceased were lowered into three graves.

Mozambican airline officials yesterday refused to comment on the burials.

On board the plane were 10 Mozambicans, nine Angolans, five Portuguese citizens, a Portuguese-Brazilian citizen, a French citizen and a Chinese citizen. Early last year, the National Forensic Science Institute (NFSI) said there were more than 600 body parts and that they had positively identified 16 passengers.

The institute also said although some families were against the repatriation of the bodies at first, they changed their minds later.

Wednesday 29 April 2015

continue reading

How amateur mappers are helping recovery efforts in Nepal

In the waning days of April 2014, two months after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared somewhere near the South China Sea, 60-year-old American pilot Michael Hoebel reported that he had found it. Unlike many searchers, Hoebel was not employed by a government, or an airline; he claimed he had discovered the wreckage of the passenger jet from the comfort of his home computer. He was not alone: About 8 million other people logged onto the global-imaging crowdsource website Tomnod during the initial, frenzied search for Flight 370.

It was not the site's first crowdsourcing campaign, but it was by far its most popular. Tomnod, a project of the geospatial content company DigitalGlobe, provided armchair plane-hunters like Hoebel with constantly updated satellite images of the rapidly growing search area and the tools to digitally “tag” mysterious shapes in the sea. More essentially, it gave people the world over a way to feel like they were really helping to find the plane. They didn't, really: Hoebel’s “plane," off the coast of Thailand, wasn't a plane at all. Flight 370 is still missing, over a year after it fell off of radar.

But the amateur satellite-image-perusers are still at it, and Kevin Bullock, director of product management at DigitalGlobe, says this current Tomnod campaign may be more important. Last Saturday night, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit near Kathmandu, the capital and largest city in Nepal. By Sunday morning, DigitalGlobe's satellite had captured images of the destruction in the city and its surrounding villages and had uploaded them online—nearly 5,700 square miles in all.

Since then, over 16,500 volunteers have used the Tomnod platform to compare the new satellite images with the old, placing 74,000 tags on major destruction areas, damaged roads, and ravaged homes. Their crowdsourced data is plugged into an algorithm that identifies frequent tag agreements to discover which areas are in need of the most help. That information is then made available to relief groups, who can use the images to target survivors in need of food, water, tents, and medical supplies.

“What’s interesting to me is that that Malaysian Flight 370 grabbed the world’s headlines, but it’s a needle in a haystack situation. We haven't found the plane,” Bullock said in a phone interview. “There’s a stark difference with Kathmandu. …Here we are actually helping to save lives. We can really show [where help is needed] with coordinates.”

The Tomnod community—DigitalGlobal says about 1 million people are registered users of the site—hasn't quite taken to the challenge of mapping post-earthquake Nepal like it did to the mystery of the plane. (The Nepal campaign has seen just 0.2 percent of the total volunteers of the Flight 370 campaign, though it's still too early for a final engagement tally.) Still, amateur mappers have congregated around the campaign's social media sites to share tips and tricks.

As with much amateur online work, parts of the Tomnod campaign feel frustratingly ineffectual—a little bit like a way for people with all the privileges of internet access to feel good about doing little. As CityLab pointed out Monday, professional mappers are already volunteering to map Nepal’s devastated areas through the open-source mapping platform OpenStreetMap, where their more sophisticated skill sets give them a better chance to help humanitarians on the ground, and more quickly. (While Tomnod's data helps groups pinpoint problem areas, Bullock explains, the OSM data will actually allow them to navigate Nepal's altered topography to get there.)

But Tomnod’s strength is simplicity. While OSM’s more advanced software is less accessible to the lay Internet user, the crowdsourced campaign can be used by anyone. “I have a 9-year-old daughter, and she can do this,” Bullock says. “Anyone can do this. …. You can pull out your phone and just spend five minutes contributing to the cause.”

There's another benefit. Over 4,600 bodies have been pulled from the rubble in Nepal, and that number will certainly rise. But statistics and photos of disaster in faraway lands are a dime a dozen, and empathy doesn't come cheap. In other words: Getting those in wealthy countries to donate is not an easy task. But there's something devastatingly unique and striking about Tomnod's grainy pictures of destruction from above. You'll toggle through before and after pictures to find that a road or a cluster of homes is just gone.

Wednesday 29 April 2015

continue reading

Nepal earthquake: DNA test to identify Assam victims

The Assam government will conduct DNA tests to identify the bodies of its residents who died in the Nepal earthquake.

Assam home commissioner L.S. Changsan today said seven persons from Assam -all from Guwahati - were feared dead. Six bodies have been identified by family members so far. The seventh body, suspected to be that of Padma Majumdar of Hengerabari here, could not be identified as her family members said it was not hers.

Padma was one of a group of eight from Hengerabari who went to Kathmandu on pilgrimage and was caught in Saturday's disaster. Five of the group are feared dead. Four bodies were identified by a group of relatives who reached Kathmandu yesterday. Padma is feared to be the fifth person killed from the area.

Kalpana Adhikari from Bhangagarh area and Hema Saikia from Narikal Basti area of the city were also killed.

Changsan said DNA tests would be conducted on all the bodies to be doubly sure about their identity. "We have collected DNA samples from the family members of the victims and it will be matched with those of the bodies," she added.

The official said there was delay in bringing the bodies to the state because of problems in flight movement in Kathmandu and inclement weather.

"The Kathmandu airport with its limited capacity is incapable of catering to an emergency situation like this. Aircraft have to keep hovering in the sky for an hour or two before they can land. We are expecting the bodies to reach Delhi tonight," she said.

Officials in the ministry of external affairs said the bodies would be brought from Kathmandu only in Indian Air Force aircraft. Around five IAF aircraft have been pressed into service at Kathmandu.

"Flight communication was affected today because of inclement weather. Yesterday, flight service was affected by a riot-like situation when more than 5,000 Indian nationals tried to enter the airport. Police had to be called in to control the situation," Changsan said.

A survivor who reached Guwahati today said there was a 3km-long queue by Indian nationals at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. She said she could come only because of help offered by an airport official in catching a flight without having to wait in queue.

"Buses from Assam have reached Nepal today and we hope it would reduce the burden on flights and chances of further such situation," she said.

Changsan said a police team, led by inspector-general S.N. Singh, would leave for Kathmandu tonight and try to bring back people from Assam stranded there by road.

She said additional director-general of Assam police Umesh Kumar who tried to board a flight from Delhi to Kathmandu yesterday could not do so and reached Nepal capital this morning.

Changsan said of the 141 people from Assam reportedly missing in Nepal, 92 have so far either reached Delhi or Guwahati - five of them reached here today - while 13 have been traced and found to be safe. "Seven injured are in hospitals in Kathmandu and our efforts are on to trace the remaining 22," she added.

The relatives of a family of five from Noonmati here, who have been doing business in Kathmandu for the past 15 years, said they had talked to them on Friday, a day before the earthquake. "But after the quake their mobile number is not working," a relative said.

The external affairs ministry could not give specific data on how many people from the Northeast were stranded in Nepal.


A district-level joint mock drill on earthquake was conducted at the Assam Secretariat in Guwahati today. A mock evacuation exercise was conducted in Block D and E to generate awareness among people in case of disaster.

A task force, comprising the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force, fire & emergency services and civil defence, operated under the supervision of the Assam State Disaster Management Authority for planning and co-ordination of the exercise. NDRF rescuers displayed extrication methods like rope rescue, highrise rescue and victim stabilisation.

Wednesday 29 April 2015

continue reading

Commemorating the Quintinshill rail disaster

Dumfries and Galloway will commemorate the centenary of the Quintinshill rail disaster on 22 May 2015.

The Quintinshill rail disaster on 22 May 1915 claimed 227 lives, including 216 servicemen of The Royal Scots as they headed for Gallipoli. Another 246 people were injured. The train crash, near Gretna, remains the UK’s worst rail disaster.

A troop train that had departed from Larbert station crashed into a local service at a junction near Gretna. An express train bound for Glasgow ploughed into the wreckage just moments later.

Many of those who died in the tragedy were servicemen with the Leith-based Royal Scots, who were travelling to Liverpool before they sailed to Gallipoli.

The events at Gretna on 22 May will be followed by a commemoration in Leith the next day.

They will be included in the national World War One centenary commemoration programme.

The programme of events includes a march to Quintinshill rail siding; the opening of a Roll of Honour at Gretna Old Church; a commemorative tree planting at Gretna Green war memorial; the premiere reading of Quintinshill poem at Stormont village hall; and a wreath laying at Quintinshill Bridge. HRH The Princess Royal will visit the region to participate in the commemorations.

Council Leader Ronnie Nicholson said, “As we commemorate the events in World War 1, it’s important that we take time to respectfully mark the centenary of this momentous event, which took place in our region. Our Council is working with local communities and a range of appropriate organisations to deliver a fitting tribute.”

Wednesday 29 April 2015

continue reading

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

At Civil War's end, a steamboat disaster that history forgot

What remains of the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history lies buried beneath an Arkansas beanfield where the Mississippi River once ran.

A century-and-a-half later, residents of the nearest town and descendants of passengers aboard the steamboat Sultana are gathering to commemorate a disaster that was overshadowed by Abraham Lincoln's assassination.

Along Highway 55 entering Marion, Arkansas, a small banner welcomes the descendants arriving for Monday's anniversary. Workers are feverishly restoring a mural depicting the steamboat as they seek to give the disaster its place in history.

The Sultana blew up on April 27, 1865, about seven miles north of Memphis, Tennessee, claiming as many as 1,800 lives, according to historical estimates. The Titanic claimed fewer — 1,517 — when it sank 45 years later.

But the momentous events of April 1865 — Lincoln's death and Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender among them — all but eclipsed the tragedy on the Mississippi.

That month, thousands of Union prisoners newly freed in the South were being sent back north on steamboats. The Sultana was carrying six times its capacity with almost 2,500 people, among them many emaciated, injured or sick Union veterans.

"The nation had just endured four long years of civil war, over 600,000 lives were lost and people were accustomed to reading about thousands of men dying in battles," said Jerry O. Potter, a Memphis lawyer who counts himself among a handful of Sultana experts.

At 2 a.m. on April 27, as the Sultana navigated a swollen Mississippi that was flooded to treetop height and about 4 miles wide, three of the steamer's boilers exploded, sending flames and passengers into the air.

Residents of the tiny towns that dotted the river lashed together logs to make rescue rafts. Marion Mayor Frank Fogelman said people on both sides of his great-grandfather's family were among those rescuers.

"My grandmother made reference to it in the family Bible," Fogelman said. "The way I understand it, they used the raft to remove people from the wreckage and put them up in the treetops and then came back for everyone once all the survivors were away from the wreckage and the fire."

Passengers who escaped the burning ship struggled in the dark, cold water. Hundreds died of hypothermia or drowned. Bodies were still being pulled from the riverbanks months later, while others were never recovered.

The wreckage is now buried about 30 feet beneath a field not far from Marion, inside the river's flood-control levees. The river has since run a new course and runs about a mile east of the spot.

It wasn't until last year that the state of Arkansas erected a bronze plaque at the edge of a parking to memorialize the tragedy. Those who know the Sultana's story are hoping Monday's anniversary events will help make the sinking more than just a footnote to the end of the Civil War.

When the memorial is over, the 12,000-person town plans to turn a temporary exhibit into a permanent Sultana museum. The exhibit includes documents, photos, a canoe-sized replica of the steamboat and a wall covered in white panels with the name of every soldier, civilian and crew member.

"We've had a few people see this list and find an ancestor," said Norman Vickers, a local historian. "We hope more people will come and look at it, and maybe find something."

Potter, who wrote "The Sultana Tragedy" in 1992, is still researching the stories of those involved.

He recalled one former soldier who failed to re-board the Sultana when it steamed from Memphis. The soldier paid a local man to ferry him out to the Sultana so he could continue on to Ohio. The ex-soldier died in the disaster, but his best friend survived to tell about that twist of fate.

Years later, sitting at a descendants' reunion, Potter was able to connect the two families.

"That has been the one of the most rewarding parts of this, being able to help descendants make that connection," he said.

"Because to me, the greatest tragedy of the Sultana is that history has forgotten these men."

Tuesday 28 April 2015

continue reading

Google, Facebook join Red Cross to find thousands missing after Nepal quake

German development worker Caroline Siebald and her boyfriend Charles Gertler, an American glaciologist, were on a rafting trip in Nepal when the earthquake struck and initially panicked about how to let their families know they were safe.

After about 30 attempts, Gertler, 25, managed to get a phone call through to his mother in Massachusetts in the United States, and she registered them as safe on Facebook's "Safety Check". Within minutes, their friends and families saw the news.

"I had messages from my best friends in kindergarten saying 'Oh my God, I'm so glad you're alive'", Siebald, 22, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

From migrant Nepali domestic workers in India to IT professionals in Brazil, people across the globe have taken to social media sites such as Facebook and Google to look for missing relatives and pass on news of survival in Nepal.

In India, which has the highest population of Nepali migrants in the world, many have been frantically trying to phone home, horrified as they watch television pictures showing bodies being pulled out of the rumble of collapsed buildings.

"I don't know anything about my son who is in a village with my parents far from Kathmandu. I am calling on the phone all the time, but I can't get through. I can't eat, sleep or work," said Usha Tamang, a nanny of Nepali nationality working in Delhi.

Elsewhere in the world, others are searching for relatives and friends who were visiting the Himalayan nation during its peak tourism season.

An estimated 300,000 foreign tourists were in the country, several hundred of whom were on Mount Everest, when Saturday's 7.9 magnitude quake struck, killing more than 3,700 people.


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was one of the first agencies to launch an online platform to trace the thousands of people who are missing.

The family tracing service publishes lists of names and information on people who are safe and well, hospital patients, people who are looking for relatives, sought persons or those who are dead.

Individuals can access these lists directly on the webpage to look for the names of their family members or register themselves as safe or in danger.

Facebook has also launched its Safety Check tool for Nepal, drawing praise from Facebook members.

"It's a simple way to let family and friends know you're okay. If you're in one of the areas affected by the earthquake, you'll get a notification asking if you're safe, and whether you want to check on any of your friends," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted.

"When disasters happen, people need to know their loved ones are safe. It's moments like this that being able to connect really matters."

An IT professional in Brazil was one of many who said that the initiative had helped her trace her family.

"My father and friends are in the area and one of the first contact points we had to get some news was Facebook. This media is not always about likes and fun," the woman wrote in response to Zuckerberg's post.

"When you or someone in your family is in danger, you'll try ANY kind of contact and I'm glad Facebook helped me today. Connection is what matters."

Another application, the Google Person Finder, first launched after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, uses SMS to allow anyone to search or update information on missing people.

On Saturday Jacqueline Brown registered Angus Brown, 46, from London, as safe. "Angus has emailed, he is in Lumboche with Martin. Both are fine, warm and have food," she said. The service is currently tracking about 5,800 people.

Telecommunications firms and tech companies such as Apple, Microsoft and T-Mobile, joined the relief effort by either waving call and text fees, facilitating donations or making donations outright.

Apple has launched a partnership with the American Red Cross, asking iTunes users to donate money through its iTunes Store for the relief efforts. Apple says that 100 percent of the donations will be made to the American Red Cross in its ongoing efforts to help survivors. Twitter is also helping to raise funds through not-for-profit organizations, including UNICEF.

Google has launched its Person Finder to help people determine whether those who may have been in the area of the earthquake are safe. Person Finder users can say whether they're "looking for someone" or "have information about someone." The service is designed for victims or people who know victims to update their family and friends on their current status. For instance, the service can provide peace-of-mind to family members, telling them that a victim is safe and sound. Google has also reduced its international calls charge to Nepal via its phone service Google Voice to one cent per minute. The company previously charged 19 cents per minute to call Nepal.

Google engineer Dan Fredinburg, who worked in the company's Project X division, was among at least 17 climbers killed when an avalanche set off by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake rolled into the climbers' base camp on Mount Everest. His death was confirmed by Google, which indicated that three other Google employees were on the mountain with Fredinburg at the time of the avalanche. "He has passed away," Lawrence You, Google's director of privacy, wrote in a blog post. "The other three Googlers with him are safe, and we are working to get them home quickly."

Soon after the Nepal earthquake hit, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg activated his company's Safety Check feature, allowing those who may have been in the area to let friends and family know they're fine. "When disasters happen, people need to know their loved ones are safe," Zuckerberg wrote on Saturday. "It's moments like this that being able to connect really matters. My thoughts are with everyone who's been caught up in this tragedy."

Telecommunications companies are also helping out. Time Warner, Verizon and AT&T have all offered their customers free calls to Nepal. Time Warner is additionally offering free calls to India and China through May 25; and Verizon and AT&T are offering free texting.

The technology companies' efforts could prove integral to helping people in Nepal in the wake of Saturday's 7.8-magnitude earthquake. The earthquake, the biggest to hit Nepal in 81 years, has so far left more than 3,700 people dead and is feared to have killed many more.

The catastrophe has mobilized humanitarian aid from around the world and several prominent organizations, including the American Red Cross, are on the scene to help those in need. The exact extent of the damage and ultimate impact on the Himalayan nation is still being evaluated, but the earthquake was strong enough to severely damage Katmandu and caused an avalanche on Mount Everest.

Nepal is seeking help in every way. Spokespeople for the country's government have said to reporters on the scene that the country lacks "the proper facilities" to properly address such a major natural disaster.

The technology industry's response is similar to how it responded following Japan's own disaster in 2011 following a major earthquake and tsunami. Nearly all of the major companies in the industry provided relief efforts to help victims.

Despite their best efforts, technology companies can only do so much to connect with people in Nepal. The country is one of the poorest in the world and just a third of its population of 30 million people is actually online. According to reports, the earthquake has taken down critical infrastructure, including Internet access, which could make efforts for victims to communicate even more difficult.

Tuesday 28 April 2015

continue reading

Monday, 27 April 2015

Nepal earthquake: Bodies being cremated as aftershocks hamper relief effort

Sleeping in the streets and shell-shocked, Nepalese cremated the dead and dug through rubble for the missing Sunday, a day after a massive Himalayan earthquake killed more than 2,200 people. Aftershocks tormented them, making buildings sway and sending panicked Kathmandu residents running into the streets.

The cawing of crows mixed with terrified screams as the worst of the aftershocks — magnitude 6.7 — pummeled the capital city. It came as planeloads of supplies, doctors and relief workers from neighboring countries began arriving in this poor Himalayan nation. No deaths or injuries were reported from the early Sunday afternoon quake, but it took an emotional toll.

"The aftershocks keep coming ... so people don't know what to expect," said Sanjay Karki, Nepal country head for global aid agency Mercy Corps. "All the open spaces in Kathmandu are packed with people who are camping outdoors. When the aftershocks come you cannot imagine the fear. You can hear women and children crying."

Saturday's magnitude 7.8 earthquake spread horror from Kathmandu to small villages and to the slopes of Mount Everest, triggering an avalanche that buried part of the base camp packed with foreign climbers preparing to make their summit attempts. At least 17 people died there and 61 were injured.

The earthquake centered outside Kathmandu, the capital, was the worst to hit the South Asian nation in over 80 years. It destroyed swaths of the oldest neighborhoods of Kathmandu, and was strong enough to be felt all across parts of India, Bangladesh, China's region of Tibet and Pakistan.

A Japanese tourist is taken on a wheelchair to a hospital after being evacuated from Mount Everest Base Camp By the afternoon of 26 April, authorities said at least 2,169 people had died in Nepal alone, with 61 more deaths in India and a few in other neighboring countries. At least 721 of them died in Kathmandu alone, and the number of injured nationwide was upward of 5,000. With search and rescue efforts far from over, it was unclear how much the death toll would rise.

But outside of the oldest neighborhoods, many in Kathmandu were surprised by how few modern structures — the city is largely a collection of small, poorly constructed brick apartment buildings — collapsed in the quake. While aid workers cautioned that many buildings could have sustained serious structural damage, it was also clear that the death toll would have been far higher had more buildings caved in.

Aid workers also warned that the situation could be far worse near the epicenter. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered near Lamjung, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu, in the Gorkha district.

Roads to that area were blocked by landslides, hindering rescue teams, said chief district official Prakash Subedi. Teams were trekking through mountain trails to reach remote villages, and helicopters would also be deployed, he said by telephone.

Local aid worker Matt Darvas said in a statement issued by his group, World Vision, that he heard that many remote mountain villages near the epicenter may have been completely buried by rock falls.

The Saturday midday quake flattened homes and historic sites but casualties in rural areas were said to be much less than estimated because thatch-roof houses common in villages and open spaces proved a blessing

The villages "are literally perched on the sides of large mountain faces and are made from simple stone and rock construction," Darvas said. "Many of these villages are only accessible by 4WD and then foot, with some villages hours and even entire days' walks away from main roads at the best of times."

Nepal's worst recorded earthquake in 1934 measured 8.0 and all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.

"There were at least three big quakes at night and early morning. How can we feel safe? This is never-ending and everyone is scared and worried," said Kathmandu resident Sundar Sah. "I hardly got much sleep. I was waking up every few hours and glad that I was alive."

As day broke, rescuers aided by international teams set out to dig through rubble of buildings — concrete slabs, bricks, iron beams, wood — to look for survivors.

With people fearing more quakes, tens of thousands of Nepalese spent Saturday night outside under chilly skies, or in cars and public buses. They were jolted awake by strong aftershocks early Sunday.

n the Kalanki neighborhood of Kathmandu, police rescuers finally extricated a man lying under a dead body, both of them buried beneath a pile of concrete slabs and iron beams. Before his rescue, his family members stood nearby, crying and praying. Police said the man's legs and hips were totally crushed.

Hundreds of people in Kalanki gathered around the collapsed Lumbini Guest House, once a three-story budget hotel and restaurant frequented by Nepalese. They watched with fear and anticipation as a single backhoe dug into the rubble.

Police officer RP Dhamala, who was coordinating the rescue efforts, said they had already pulled out 12 people alive and six dead. He said rescuers were still searching for about 20 people believed to be trapped, but had heard no cries, taps or noises for a while.

Most areas were without power and water. The United Nations said hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley were overcrowded, and running out of emergency supplies and space to store corpses.

Plumes of smoke, meanwhile, rose above the capital as friends, relatives and others gathered by the river to quickly cremate loved ones' remains.

Most shops in Kathmandu were shut; only fruit vendors and pharmacies seemed to be doing business.

"More people are coming now," fruit seller Shyam Jaiswal said. "They cannot cook so they need to buy something they can eat raw."

Jaiswal said stocks were running out, and more shipments were not expected for at least a week, but added, "We are not raising prices. That would be illegal, immoral profit."

The quake will likely put a huge strain on the resources of this impoverished country best known for Everest, the highest mountain in the world. The economy of Nepal, a nation of 27.8 million people, relies heavily on tourism, principally trekking and Himalayan mountain climbing.

With Kathmandu airport reopened, the first aid flights began delivering aid supplies. The first to respond were Nepal's neighbors — India, China and Pakistan, all of which have been jockeying for influence over the landlocked nation. Nepal remains closest to India, with which it shares deep political, cultural and religious ties.

India suffered its own losses from the quake, with at least 61 people killed there and dozens injured. Sunday's aftershock was also widely felt in the country, and local news reports said metro trains in New Delhi and Kolkata were briefly shut down when the shaking started.

People try to free a living man from the rubble of a destroyed building after an earthquake hit Nepal Other countries sending support Sunday included the United Arab Emirates, Germany and Francrestored to main government offices, the airport and hospitals.

Among the destroyed buildings in Kathmandu was the nine-story Dharahara Tower, a Kathmandu landmark built by Nepal's royal rulers as a watchtower in the 1800s and a UNESCO-recognized historical monument. It was reduced to rubble and there were reports of people trapped underneath.

The Kathmandu Valley is listed as a World Heritage site. The Buddhist stupas, public squares and Hindu temples are some of the most well-known sites in Kathmandu, and now some of the most deeply mourned.

Nepali journalist and author Shiwani Neupane tweeted: "The sadness is sinking in. We have lost our temples, our history, the places we grew up."

Cremations near Pashupatinath temple

Grieving families on Sunday cremated hundreds of victims of Nepal's earthquake near the famed Pashupatinath temple here, confusion and overcrowding marking the final rites.

Relatives jostled for space in the vast area to cremate the dead. Lack of adequate space forced hundreds to perform the last rites outside the designated spots.

More than 2,300 people have been officially declared dead in Saturday's devastating quake that measured 7.9 on the Richter scale. The government has warned that the toll may rise.

Nepal-India earthquake complete coverage

With most deaths reported so far in and around the Kathmandu Valley, there was heavy pressure on the Hindu cremation ground near the temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The funeral of more than 100 people took place on Sunday within a short time. "People are conducting the last rites wherever they can and without following the proper rituals," a witness told IANS.

Hundreds waited in serpentine queue to cremate their near and dear ones.

Hindus form 80 percent of Nepal's 29 million people. Buddhists account for another 10 percent.

Monday 27 April 2015

continue reading

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Google launches ‘Person Finder’ after devastating earthquake hits Nepal

Google India has launched its ‘Person Finder’ instance to help track missing persons after a massive 7.9 earthquake hit Nepal on Saturday.

Google’s Person Finder is a free tool that helps friends and family members search for missing persons after a calamity. People can request and provide information about missing persons on the site.

Google Person Finder has been assisting the world in face of calamities since 2010 Haiti earthquake and has helped numerous people to reconnect with their loved ones after disasters. It was also launched in India after the devastating 2013 Uttarakhand floods.

Search is also available through SMS in India and the US. Users just have to text “search ” to +91-9773300000 in India or +1-650-800-3978 in the US.

All data which is part of the Google Person Finder is public and anyone can search for it. Press, NGO’s etc can all add to the database and there’s also a Person Finder API to get updates on the same.

Sunday 26 April 2015

continue reading

Rescue efforts intensify in Nepal

A 6.7 magnitude aftershock has struck Nepal amid a desperate search for people trapped by the earthquake, which has killed more than 2,000 people.

The aftershock, felt as far away as New Delhi, sent people in Nepal's devastated capital running on to the street once again, witnesses reported.

"Massive aftershock. A wall of a old house next to mine has collapsed now. Kathmandu is in shock again. People on streets," one Kathmandu resident tweeted.

It hit as teams from all over the world headed to Nepal to search for survivors and provide food and shelter to people left homeless by Saturday's 7.9 magnitude quake.

Indian air force planes were among the first to arrive, landing on Sunday with 43 tons of aid, including tents and food, and nearly 200 rescuers.

UK teams set to join the relief effort include 14 volunteers from from UK charity Search and Rescue Assistance in Disasters.

They are heading to Kathmandu with 1.5 tons of specialist equipment to rescue people from collapsed buildings. The quake, which hit on Saturday, flattened houses and temples and triggered an avalanche on Everest which killed 17 – the worst ever loss of life on the mountain.

Police in the capital Kathmandu say bodies are still arriving at one hospital in the city.

Officer Sudan Shreshtha told reporters his team had brought in 166 corpses overnight.

Tens of thousands of terrified Kathmandu residents also spent the night outside in freezing temperatures fearing another major tremor.

Officials fear the death toll could rise as the desperate search for survivors continues. Many countries and international charities have offered aid to Nepal to deal with the disaster.

The shallow 7.8 quake struck at midday (local time) on Saturday in central Nepal, about 81 kilometres northwest of the capital Kathmandu. It caused massive damage in the Kathmandu Valley.

Victims have also been reported in India, Bangladesh, Tibet and on Mt Everest.

Australian authorities are trying to contact hundreds of their people, with about 350 still not confirmed as safe. Desperate rescue efforts underway.

The death toll could rise, as the situation is unclear in remote areas which remain cut off or hard to access. Many mountain roads are cracked or blocked by landslides.

Scores of bodies have been ferried to hospitals in the capital Kathmandu, many of which are struggling to cope with the number of injured.

More than 700 have died in the capital alone.

Medics are expecting a fresh influx of patients on Sunday as supplies run low. Rescuers in places used their bare hands to dig for survivors still buried underneath piles of rubble and debris overnight on Saturday.

Army officer Santosh Nepal told the Reuters news agency that he and his soldiers had to dig a passage into a collapsed three-storey residential building in Kathmandu using pickaxes because bulldozers could not get through the ancient city's narrow streets.

"We believe there are still people trapped inside," he told Reuters. Many historic buildings in the capital, including the Darahara Tower, have been destroyed.

Bodies recovered after avalanche

Seventeen bodies have been recovered after an avalanche triggered by the earthquake buried part of Mt Everest's Base Camp sparking fears for hundreds of climbers on the mountain.

Rescue team personnel carry an injured person towards a waiting rescue helicopter at Everest Base Camp. The Mountaineering Association said it was the worst disaster ever on the mountain.

It said a further 61 people were injured and the first rescue helicopters had only now been able to get in to fly them to a medical centre.

There are 100 climbers at Everest Camps 1 and 2 above base camp and all are safe, according to the Mountaineering Association.

But it said it will be difficult to evacuate them because the Icefall Route back to Everest Base Camp was damaged. It is the start of the main climbing season and officials estimate at least 1000 climbers including 400 foreigners were either at Base Camp or up the mountain when the quake struck.

Sunday 26 April 2015

continue reading

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Mount Everest avalanche triggered by Nepal earthquake kills at least 18: reports

A powerful earthquake in Nepal has triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing at least 18 people, according to reports.

An Indian army mountaineering team found 18 bodies on Mount Everest, after the avalanche swept through the base camp.

More than 1,000 climbers had gathered there at the start of the climbing season.

The earthquake hit Nepal and north India on Saturday afternoon, killing more than 1,300 people and collapsing buildings in Kathmandu.

Since then, climbers on the world's highest mountain have pleaded for help, saying an avalanche has destroyed camps and sent slabs of ice crashing in a "huge disaster".

"An avalanche from Mt Pumori has hit the base camp, burying a part of it," Nepalese tourism official Gyanendra Shrestha said.

"We don't have the details yet, but 10 have been reported dead so far, including foreign climbers."

"We are trying to assess how many are injured. There might be over 1,000 people there right now, including foreign climbers and Nepalese supporting staff."

Romanian climber Alex Gavan said on Twitter that there had been a "huge avalanche" and "many, many" people were up on the mountain.

"Running for life from my tent. Everest base camp huge earthquake then huge avalanche," he said.

"Huge disaster. Helped searched and rescued victims through huge debris area. Many dead. Much more badly injured. More to die if not heli asap," he later tweeted.

Another climber, Daniel Mazur, said Everest base camp had been "severely damaged" and his team was trapped.

"Please pray for everyone," he said on his Twitter page.

Rescue efforts hampered by snowy conditions

Rescue efforts are underway but heavy snow has prevented helicopters from reaching climbers, an official said.

AFP reporters on approach to the base camp said no rescue helicopters were on their way.

"We got caught in an earthquake on Everest. We are both OK ... snowing here so no choppers coming," they said.

But medics already at base camp for the climbing season were working hard to "save lives", doctor and mountaineer Nima Namgyal Sherpa said on his Facebook page on Saturday.

"Many camps have been destroyed by the shake and wind from the avalanche. All the doctors here are doing our best to treat and save lives," Dr Nima said.

Mohan Krishna Sapkota, joint secretary in the Nepalese tourism ministry, said the government was struggling to assess the damage on Everest because of poor phone coverage.

"The trekkers are scattered all around the base camp and some had even trekked further up. It is almost impossible to get in touch with anyone," Mr Sapkota said.

Choti Sherpa, who works at the Everest Summiteers Association, said she had been unable to call her family and colleagues on the mountain.

"Everyone is trying to contact each other, but we can't. We are all very worried," she said.

One climber, Arjun Vajpai, told India's NDTV that he had not been able to establish radio communication with anyone from his team.

"We had some 10 to 15 climbers including some sherpas up there and we still don't have any confirmation reports [of] whether they are OK or not," he said.

"It is snowing here for the past one and a half days. We haven't been able to establish radio communication with them."

An avalanche in April 2014 just above the base camp on Mount Everest killed 16 Nepali guides, making it the deadliest incident on the mountain.

April is one of the most popular times to climb Everest before rain and clouds cloak the mountain at the end of next month.

Saturday 25 April 2015

continue reading

Devastating Nepal quake kills over 1,300, some in Everest avalanche

A powerful earthquake struck Nepal and sent tremors through northern India on Saturday, killing more than 1,300 people, touching off a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest and toppling a 19th-century tower in the capital Kathmandu.

There were reports of devastation in outlying, isolated mountainous areas after the midday quake of magnitude 7.9, Nepal's worst in 81 years, centred 50 miles (80 km) east of the second city, Pokhara.

As fears grew of a humanitarian disaster in the impoverished Himalayan nation of 28 million, an overwhelmed government appealed for foreign help. India was first to respond by sending in military aircraft with medical equipment and relief teams.

A police spokesman said the death toll in Nepal alone had reached 1,341, about half of them in the Kathmandu Valley. A further 36 fatalities were reported in northern India, 12 in Chinese Tibet and four in Bangladesh.

The quake was more destructive for being shallow, toppling buildings, opening gaping cracks in roads and sending people scurrying into the open as aftershocks rattled their damaged homes.

Thousands prepared to spend the night outside, setting up makeshift tents, sitting around campfires and eating food provided by volunteers.

Indian tourist Devyani Pant was in a Kathmandu coffee shop with friends when "suddenly the tables started trembling and paintings on the wall fell on the ground.

"I screamed and rushed outside," she told Reuters by telephone from the capital, where at least 300 people died.

"We are now collecting bodies and rushing the injured to the ambulance. We are being forced to pile several bodies one above the other to fit them in."

An Indian army mountaineering team found 18 bodies on Mount Everest, where an avalanche unleashed by the earthquake swept through the base camp. More than 1,000 climbers had gathered there at the start of the climbing season.

Choti Sherpa, who works at the Everest Summiteers Association, was unable to call her family and colleagues on the mountain. "Everyone is trying to contact each other, but we can't," she said. "We are all very worried."


A second tourism official, Mohan Krishna Sapkota, said it was "hard to even assess what the death toll and the extent of damage" around Everest could be.

"The trekkers are scattered all around the base camp and some had even trekked further up. It is almost impossible to get in touch with anyone."

Around 300,000 foreign tourists were estimated to be in various parts of Nepal for the spring trekking and climbing season in the Himalayas, and officials were overwhelmed by calls from concerned friends and relatives.

Nepal, sandwiched between India and China, has had its share of natural disasters. Its worst earthquake in 1934 killed more than 8,500 people.

Political instability does little to boost Nepal's resilience; it has still not upgraded its weather forecasting system despite being surprised by unseasonal blizzards last autumn that killed 32 in the Annapurna massif.

In 2001, Nepal made global headlines when the crown prince, Dipendra, gunned down 10 members of his family, including his father, King Birendra Shah, before killing himself.

A Maoist rebellion subsequently transformed the kingdom into a republican democracy and abolished the monarchy altogether in 2008. A new constitution has yet to be agreed, however.

"This earthquake is the nightmare scenario," said Ian Kelman of the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction in London.

"The country has ... suffered terrible conflicts, poor governance, and heart-wrenching poverty, all of which created and perpetuated the vulnerability which has been devastatingly exposed."


Among the Kathmandu landmarks destroyed by the quake was the 60-metre-high (100-foot) Dharahara Tower, built in 1832 for the queen of Nepal, with a viewing balcony that had been open to visitors for the last 10 years.

A jagged stump just 10 metres high was all that was left of the lighthouse-like structure. As bodies were pulled out of the ruins, a policeman said up to 200 people had been trapped inside.

At the main hospital in Kathmandu, volunteers formed human chains to clear the way for ambulances to bring in the injured.

Across the city, rescuers scrabbled through the rubble of destroyed buildings, among them ancient, wooden Hindu temples.

"I can see three bodies of monks trapped in the debris of a collapsed building near a monastery," said Pant, the tourist. "We are trying to pull the bodies out and look for anyone who is trapped."


The Everest avalanches, first reported by climbers, raised fears for those on the world's loftiest peak a year after a massive snowslide killed 16 Nepali guides just above base camp.

Romanian climber Alex Gavan tweeted that there had been a "huge earthquake then huge avalanche" at base camp, forcing him to run for his life.

In a later tweet Gavan made a desperate appeal for a helicopter to fly in and evacuate climbers who had been hurt: "Many dead. Much more badly injured. More to die if not heli asap."

Another climber, Daniel Mazur, said the base camp had been severely damaged and his team were trapped. "Please pray for everyone," he tweeted.

The tremors were felt as far away as New Delhi and other cities in northern India, with reports that they had lasted up to a minute.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi dispatched a military air transporter with three tonnes of supplies and a 40-strong disaster response team to Nepal. Three more planes were to follow, carrying a mobile hospital and further relief teams.

Saturday 25 April 2015

continue reading

At least 14 migrants killed in Macedonia after being hit by train while walking through canyon

At least fourteen migrants have died after being hit by an international passenger train in central Macedonia as they walked through a canyon along an increasingly well-trodden Balkan route for migrants trying to reach western Europe.

The accident happened at night near the central city of Veles.

Rescue efforts were hampered by difficult terrain, with the site of the accident accessible only by foot or railway.

Macedonia's state prosecutor said that from interviewing survivors it appeared most of the group were from Somalia and Afghanistan.

Migrants fleeing war, poverty and repression in the Middle East and Africa are increasingly turning to the Balkans as a land route to western Europe.

Although the route is longer, it is deemed safer than trying by boat across the Mediterranean.

Up to 900 migrants drowned when their boat capsized its way from Libya to Italy on Sunday.

The Macedonian prosecutor confirmed the 14 deaths and said rescue services found no injured migrants at the site, an area called Pcinja north of Veles and near the Vardar river.

Local media reported that the group numbered around 50.

They were hit by an international train travelling from the southern Macedonian border town of Gevgelija to the Serbian capital, Belgrade, the same route taken by migrants trying to get from Greece to Hungary.

"The driver saw a large group, dozens of people," the prosecutor said in a statement.

"At that moment, he took action to stop the train and engage the siren, at which point some people left the tracks. The train was unable to stop before hitting and running over some of them."

Emergency service workers described a "scene of horror with body parts scattered some 150 metres along the railroad".

The bodies were taken to a chapel at the local cemetery in Veles, police said.

Eight migrants were detained, while others fled the scene, police spokeswoman Anita Stojkovska said.

Already, more than 1,750 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean this year — 30 times more than the same period in 2014.

Saturday 25 April 2015

continue reading

Rana Plaza anniversary: ‘Missing’ victims add to Bangladesh factory collapse agony

Tearful and angry survivors of the Rana Plaza disaster gathered at the factory site Friday to protest against poor compensation on the two-year anniversary of the tragedy that claimed more than 1,100 lives.

About 2,000 survivors, some on crutches, and families of victims held hands in a show of solidarity at the ruins of the factory complex which imploded in 2013 in one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

From early morning, the crowd, many clutching photos of loved ones, gathered at a makeshift memorial at the site to protest a range of concerns including poor factory safety standards and a lack of compensation.

The anniversary was also a chance to protest against a failure to find some 135 workers, presumed killed in the disaster, but whose bodies have never been recovered.

“I want to know where my daughter is buried. For two years I’ve been asking this question but nobody has any answer,” said Jaheda Begum, 55, holding a photograph of her 35-year-old daughter Saleha Begum.

The sporadic discovery of remains has fuelled the anger of relatives who say authorities were too quick to send in the bulldozers to shovel up most of the debris.

By the time the three-week rescue operation ended, a total of 1,129 bodies had been recovered.

Bangladesh’s garment industry, the world’s second largest after China, has bounced back since the tragedy, with shipments last year standing at $25 billion. Holding a photograph of her son in one hand and a bone in another, Mehera stands silently surrounded by rubble at the site which once housed Bangladesh’s ill-fated Rana Plaza factory complex.

Her son Babu Mia, 23, was on shift in one of the complex’s five garment factories when it collapsed on the morning of April 24, 2013, leaving more than 1,100 people dead in one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

The collapse triggered international outrage and put pressure on European and US brands who had placed orders to improve the woeful pay and conditions at Bangladesh’s 4,500 garment factories.

Two years on, nearly $25 million (Dh92 million) in compensation has been paid out to survivors and relatives of the dead.

But Mehera, a widow who uses only one name, is one of hundreds of family members who remain in limbo — knowing in her heart that her son is gone for good, but without a body to mourn.

Babu, who was the family’s sole breadwinner, is one of around 130 workers who are presumed to have died when the flimsy building imploded but whose bodies have never been recovered.

“I’m convinced these are his bones,” said 55-year-old Mehera as she pointed to remains found amid the tangle of concrete.

“When I touched this fabric and this bone, my heart told me it was my son’s. He was wearing his favourite trousers that day,” added Mehera as she cradled a bone fragment embedded with tiny strands of black cloth.

“And here’s his finger,” she said, picking up another small bone.

Dozens of bones have been found in the last two years, some of which lie in piles and others left to poke out from the rubble, bleached by the sun.

The sporadic discovery of remains has fuelled the anger of relatives who say authorities were too quick to send in the bulldozers to shovel up most of the debris.

By the time the three-week rescue operation ended, a total of 1,129 bodies had been recovered.

Around 800 were handed over to relatives after they were identified, but 300 were buried en masse as they were too badly decomposed to identify.

A medical lab has since identified some 200 of those buried in unmarked graves by matching DNA samples with relatives.

But Anwarul Islam Khandaker, a government official whose office has tallied the dead and missing, said 135 workers remain unaccounted for.

“But there is no way of finding them now,” he told AFP. “All the relatives can do is pray for the salvation of their souls.”

That means people like Mehera and dozens other who have travelled to the disaster site from remote villages ahead of the second anniversary of the tragedy are unlikely to ever achieve closure.

In the aftermath of the collapse they spent months searching morgues on the off-chance that the bodies had surfaced there.

Meanwhile, as a UN-backed trust fund wraps up its task of compensating victims’ families, some relatives have not received a cent as they have been unable to prove that their loved ones did indeed die.

Mojtaba Kazazi, head of the Rana Plaza Claims Administration, said relatives of people classified as missing, presumed dead are among the 3,000 people to have received compensation.

Relatives of some two dozen missing workers may have not been compensated as they could not back up their claims with documentation, said Kazazi.

“We’ve included the relatives of missing workers as much as possible for compensation. But if anyone has been left out, he or she should come to us quickly,” he added.

With the trust fund due to wind up in June, time is running out for people like Jahanara, who lost her 24-year-old daughter Nuri Begum.

Sat under the scorching sun at Rana Plaza, Jahanara said she had given up hope of getting any compensation as she cannot locate the right paperwork, but is still desperate to learn what happened to Nuri.

“I come here every day,” she said as she took a reporter on a tour of the ruined site, which features a makeshift memorial and pond.

“There’s a fire in my heart that brings me here. I am sure she’s buried somewhere here,” said Jahanara, who like many Bangladeshis uses one name.

The 50-year-old, who is also a survivor of the collapse, said she now has to beg as she suffered leg injuries that have made her too weak to work.

Ayesha Khatun has travelled for the anniversary from the border district of Kushtia as a tribute to her missing daughter Nurjahan Khatun, 18.

“All I want is to know the place where she is sleeping,” she said, adding that she got only 51,000 taka (Dh2,395 or $658) as compensation, although some people received two million taka.

Campaigners say the trust fund’s lifespan should be extended so it can compensate more relatives of the missing.

“It would be a double tragedy if these poor people don’t get anything,” said Kalpona Akter, head of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity.

“It’s bad enough not to be able to mourn your loved, without then losing out on compensation.”

Saturday 25 April 2015

continue reading

Friday, 24 April 2015

55 dead, over 80 injured in storm-hit Bihar

The toll in the killer storm in Bihar has risen to 55 from 48 as more bodies were found overnight in the 12 ravaged districts today. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is set to tour Purnia, accompanied by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, to take stock of the situation.

A report compiled by the state disaster management department said Purnia bore its brunt with a maximum of 32 deaths.

Seven lost their lives in Madhepura, three in Madhubani, two in Katihar, two in Sitamarhi and one each in Darbhanga and Supual, the report said.

Over 80 people were seriously injured in the storm and are being treated at various government hospitals, it said.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar made an aerial survey of Bhagalpur and neighbouring storm-hit areas on Thursday morning and held a meeting with officials, sources at the Chief Minister's office said.

He said there was no forecast about the storm which took the state by surprise and left a trail of devastation.

After telephonic talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chief Minister, the Centre had promised all assistance, official sources said.

Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi today expressed profound grief at the human casualties and damage to dwellings in Seemanchal and Koshi regions of the state.

He asked the state government to pay Rs. 4 lakh compensation to family members of the victims immediately and take up relief and rehabilitation work expeditiously, a statement issued by Raj Bhavan said.

The Governor also asked the state government to restore transport facilities, electricity and communication network in the affected areas at the earliest, it said.

The affected districts are Purnea, Araria, Kishanganj, Katihar, Madhepura, Supaul, Saharsa, Bhagalpur, Samastipur, Darbhanga and Madhubani in north and north eastern parts of the state.

Friday 24 April 2015

continue reading

Pakistan: First DNA testing lab of Sindh launched

Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah inaugurated the forensic and molecular biology laboratory for deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing and Institute of Bio-Medical Technology established by the Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences (LUMHS) at a ceremony held at CM House on Thursday.

This is the first DNA lab in Sindh that will help identify bodies and offenders in sexual assault cases and ascertain paternity disputes.

In their respective speeches, officials of the health department and the chief minister called it yet another milestone achieved to curb crime and ensure justice. “This new laboratory, with the help of law enforcement agencies, will solve difficult cases by getting the DNA reports within 72 hours instead of weeks or month as per previous practice,” said Shah.

Recalling the deadly bombing on former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s homecoming rally in 2007, the chief minister said that the Pakistan Peoples Party officials ran from pillar to post in an attempt to get the DNA reports of their martyred workers to identify them. The samples were sent to Islamabad and Lahore, but many could not be identified that led to the burial of more than 40 people without getting identified, he lamented.

“During this incident, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto had promised to establish the forensic lab in Sindh,” he said. “We have fulfilled her dream.” He explained that after coming to power, the PPP government assigned the task to the LUMHS, Jamshoro.

According to Shah, the lab will also help the judiciary by using biological specimen such as blood, semen, saliva, urine, hair, teeth and bone for DNA testing, in order to ascertain qualitative and quantitative analyses of the poisons in medico-legal cases.

Friday 24 April 2015

continue reading

24 unidentified migrants from latest Med tragedy laid to rest in inter-faith ceremony

24 migrants who died in this week’s tragedy off the coast of Libya were buried this morning after a remembrance ceremony held at Mater Dei Hospital. The victims are only a small fraction of the 700 or more people who died in the tragedy.

They were laid to rest in an inter-faith ceremony led by Gozo Bishop Mario Grech and Imam El Sadi.

A number of dignitaries attended the event, including Presiden Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil and Members of Parliament. Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos and Minister of Social Solidarity of Greece Theano Fotiou also attended.

The bouquets of flowers that were sent by Maltese people after a call made by the Mater Dei Hospital CEO were lined up in the area leading to the helipad where the ceremony took place.

The caskets of the migrants were carried into the marquee tent by members of the Armed Forces.

One of the caskets was white, and it is that carrying the adolescent migrant who was among the 24 corpses recovered. The silence was broken by the cries of several members of the migrant community in Malta. A woman, wearing a baseball cap with ‘I am a survivor’ written on it, stood out from the crowd.

"The migrants were escaping from a desperate situation, they were trying to find freedom and a better life,” Bishop Grech said during the service. “There are 24 unidentified bodies here but we know that there are hundreds more at the bottom of the cemetery that the Mediterranean has become. We do not know their names, justthat they were trying to seek a better and more peaceful life. Irrespective of religion, culture and race, we know that they are our fellow human beings.”

Mgr. Grech said that, facing this situation, politicians can either quote the law and squabble over who is responsible for the rescue operations or they can forget all of this and help those in peril. “The way of the law is not enough to tackle the emerging migrant crisis. By choosing not to hear the cries for help of those in desperate need of help the situation will deflate into what Pope Francis calls the globalization of indifference.”

Merciful love demanded a reaching out to the roots which was causing this exodus, he said. "Face the situation with the eyes of the good Samaritan," he said.

Imam El Sadi thanked the Maltese and Italian governments and people for helping migrants in distress. “All are brothers before God. All people are migrants and their life was a journey." What had happened, he said, should raise awareness, and he went on to ask whether enough was being done to help the migrants at sea.

Later, two AFM bandsmen sounded the last post and the Bishop and the Imam read out the funeral rites of both religions. The caskets where then loaded into hearses and taken to Addolorata Cemetery, where the migrants will be buried in common graves.

Friday 24 April 2015

continue reading

Death toll in China mine accident rises to 21

The number of people killed at a coal mine in northern China has risen to 21, local officials say.

The final death toll was confirmed by Datong city officials in Shanxi Province on Thursday.

Search teams and rescue workers have recovered 21 bodies from the site of the collapsed mine, located near the northern city of Datong.

The incident happened when water rushed into a shaft inside the Jiangjiawan mine on Sunday evening.

Experts say such accidents are usually caused by breaches of abandoned shafts where water has collected over time.

Of a total of 247 miners who were underground, 226 people were rescued.

Hundreds of rescuers have been trying to save those trapped underground by pumping water and drilling holes from the surface. Over 1,500 cubic meters of water has been pumped out of the mine so far.

The world’s deadliest mine accidents reportedly occur in China, although the mines’ safety record has been steadily improving in recent years as authorities have enhanced enforcement of safety regulations.

China’s notoriously dangerous mines have seen declining deaths in recent years because of safety improvements as well as a decreasing demand for coal.

Friday 24 April 2015

continue reading

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Kosova: Victims of Kosovo war mass grave identified

The last batch of 21 remains out of the total 54 Kosovo Albanians discovered at a mass grave have been identified and returned to their families in Kosovo’s capital Pristina, it was announced Thursday [16 April 2015].

The 21 Kosovo Albanians were among 54 victims, who were killed during the 1998-99 Kosovo War and later discovered at a mass grave in Serbia’s Rudnitsa village near Raska city in April 2014.

Out of these 21 victims, 19 belonged to the same family, who had the surname Morina, Pristina’s Forensic Medicine Center Director Arsim Gerxhaliu said. The victims are expected to be buried after a funeral ceremony Friday.

In total, 53 of the 54 victims had been identified, Gerxhaliu said, adding that the remaining unidentified victim was believed to be a refugee or a guest who happened to be at the wrong place at a wrong time.

On April 2, 2015, 28 out of these 53 victims were handed over to families after identification. Moreover, on Sept. 18, 2014, four out of these 54 victims were returned to their families.

All victims are believed to have been killed by the Serbian military and paramilitary units during the war.

Since the Kosovo War, hundreds of people, mostly Albanians remain missing.

The Kosovo War was an armed conflict between Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo Liberation Army between February 28, 1998, and June 11, 1999.

After Serbs attempted ethnic cleansing of Albanians, NATO intervened and ended the war with airstrikes in 1999.

Thursday 23 April 2015

continue reading

Moroccan activists fight to give dead migrants dignified burial

At least 700 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean sea after their boat sunk on Saturday evening. There were only 28 survivors, and only 24 bodies were recovered, according to the Italian coast guard. This follows Monday’s tragedy, which saw another 400 people lose their lives. Each time, only a tiny number of bodies are ever recovered. The rest either lie on the seabed or wash up on the shores of Mediterranean countries like Morocco, where fellow migrants and activists struggle to give as many as they can a dignified burial.

In 2014, an estimated 3,500 migrants died while attempting to make the crossing over the Mediterranean, according to figures released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The 2015 death toll is set to surpass this amount.

In most cases, the only other way to recover the bodies of migrants is to wait until the currents wash them ashore. Once washed up along Mediterranean coastlines, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of individual countries.

Laetitia Tura is the co-producer of "The Messengers", a documentary film that examines how the bodies of dead migrants are handled.

"[In Tunisia] bodies that routinely float ashore are treated like waste by the authorities. They're piled up in landfills well out of sight. In 2011, authorities dug a mass grave for the bodies. But in Tunisia, like elsewhere, the struggle to ensure that these migrants are given a dignified burial is above all the fruit of a collective effort led by individuals and NGOs."

Sédrik actively takes part in one such initiative to identify migrant bodies that appear on the shores of Morocco. Sédrik is from Cameroon and when he first came to Morocco he didn’t have papers. However, he gained legal status in a government-run amnesty programme and is now a legal resident. Sédrik keeps close tabs on migrants passing through Tangier on their way to Europe.

I'm often called to the morgue to try and identify the bodies of dead migrants. In Tangier, the 'mortician' [Editor's note: an employee of the morgue] is very cooperative. If any documents have been found with the bodies, he shares them with us. However, most of the time, migrants don’t carry identification.

The Tangier mortician also gives us time to identify the bodies. It's usually very difficult to recognise them as the bodies have already partly decomposed in the water.

Most bodies, however, are never actually identified. If migrants don't stop in Tangier before heading out to sea, other migrants don't know them and it's almost impossible to identify them.

"The cost of repatriating bodies is huge"

Hicham Rachidi is the secretary general of GADEM, an NGO dedicated to promoting migrant rights in Morocco. His NGO closely follows the drawn-out process of burying the bodies.

In general, bodies are buried where they are found. They are very rarely repatriated because the cost of doing so is always huge.

In 2004, the royal cabinet [Editor's note: a cabinet that consists of the King and his advisors] intervened to repatriate the bodies of 43 young Moroccans that had washed up on Spanish shores. The operation was very expensive and lasted months. They carried out DNA tests on the families, repatriated the bodies and organised burials. It cost 2,800 Euros to repatriate each body. But this isn't a regular occurrence.

A group of Moroccans also drowned off the coast of Soussa in Tunisia, but their bodies were never repatriated. It was really tough for the families. They saw the bodies of their loved ones in reports filmed by French broadcaster TV5 Monde but they never saw them for themselves.

"Bodies that aren't identified are given anonymous burials by local municipalities"

Most of those who try to cross the Mediterranean in boats are Sub-Saharan African migrants. It's appalling to see the number of bodies that wash ashore each year.

If they are identified, the job of handling the burial passes to the family or friends of the victims. In Casablanca, a Catholic burial costs around 800 euros. Occasionally, because it is cheaper, Christians are buried in Muslim cemeteries.

European countries are also confronting the difficulty of dealing with bodies. There is no EU-wide system in place to identify the corpses, so European countries carry out the task without cross-border cooperation. The job of identifying them is further complicated by the fact that migrants rarely carry documents.

Sara Prestianni works for Cimade, an NGO that promotes migrants' rights. She explains that the Italian system – a collaboration between scientists and authorities at the local and national level – is relatively organised and "at the end of this identification process, migrants have the right to be buried in a grave in their name. Local town councils handle the burials." In Spain, however, most of the bodies are buried in unmarked graves. In Greece, she adds, "despite the efforts of migrant NGOs, unidentified bodies often pile up in mass graves".

Thursday 23 April 2015

continue reading

17 Indian pilgrims killed in Nepal accident, bodies identified

At least 17 Indian pilgrims were killed and 28 others injured on Wednesday when a bus carrying them plunged into a river while negotiating a sharp bend along a downhill section of the Prithvi Highway in Nepal, police said.

According to Superintendent of Police Narayan Singh Khadka, the accident took place at 6.40 a.m. when the bus carrying 45 Indian pilgrims from Gujarat skidded off the Prithvi Highway, rolled down 200 metres and plunged into Jhyapre river in Dhading district, some 50 km west of Kathmandu.

Khadka said 14 people died on the spot while three others succumbed in hospital.

The 45 Indian pilgrims aboard the bus were returning to Gorakhpur in India after visiting the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu.

The injured were taken to various hospitals in Kathmandu, including the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital (TUTH), Vayodha Hospital, Shahid Memorial Hospital and Norvic Hospital.

Personnel of the army, police and armed police along with local residents carried out the rescue work at the accident site.

The Armed Police Force of Nepal said 14 of the 17 killed in the accident belonged to Surendranagar village in Gujarat.

Indian Ambassador to Nepal Ranjit Rae visited the various hospitals to meet the injured pilgrims, the embassy said in a statement.

“Latest position on bus accident on Wednesday — 17 dead, 27 injured, five critical and one missing. Our consular team is on the spot. We are sending injured to different hospitals for treatment,” the embassy said.

It further added that the bus, carrying around 45 Indian pilgrims, was an Indian registered vehicle, operated by Shri Hari Tours & Travels of Gujarat state bearing registration number GJ14X9900.

Thursday 23 April 2015

continue reading

'Many' more human remains found at MH17 crash site

Dutch investigators have recovered "many" more body parts and pieces of wreckage after resuming their search at the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 plane crash site in Ukraine, the Netherlands said today.

All 298 passengers and crew onboard the aircrraft – most of them Dutch – died when it was shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine last year.

"Many human remains have been found in the first few days of this mission," the Dutch justice ministry said in a statement.

Investigators also recovered around 50 cubic metres of plane wreckage as well as personal effects including jewellery, passports and photographs.

Everything that has been found will be taken to the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv and from there to the Netherlands.

The latest search operation started last week in Petropavlivka, about 10km west of Grabove where most of the debris fell.

The Boeing 777 was flying at high altitude when it was shot down on July 17.

The remains of all but two victims, both Dutch, have been identified.

Kiev and the West claim that the plane was shot down by the separatists using a BUK surface-to-air missile supplied by Russia. Moscow denies the charges, pointing the finger at Kiev.

The Netherlands has been charged with leading the investigation into the cause of the incident and identifying the victims of the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

‘Many’ human remains found at MH17 crash site, say Dutch investigators

THursday 23 April 2015

continue reading

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Mediterranean Graveyard, The nameless dead of Malta

They're stacked in silver tubes. One on top of another. They are sealed in black plastic bags with marker-scribbled signs hung at their feet: Unknown Number 7, Unknown Number 10. Here, we can count 24 nameless corpses, all unknown and unidentified.

"They are all adult males, except one teenager," says Dr. David Grima.

They were on deck and died at sea, in the open wind, unlike those who were trapped below deck. We don't know their names, but in reality we know them very well. We have already seen them, followed them, listened to them, admired them for a strength that we don't have.

And we know how this would-be passage to Europe ends, here on the continent's extreme southern stretch, at the Mater Dei hospital's morgue on the island nation of Malta. Authorities now say as many as 800 people were killed in the sinking of the boat over the weekend, the worst maritime disaster in Europe since World War II.

Mater Dei (Mother of God) is the main hospital on the island, a modern building tucked among a tangle of streets. The mortuary's refrigerator has capacity for 65 bodies at any one time. Today a retiree suffered a fatal heart attack and three chronically ill patients from a ward died, joining the 23 men and teenagers who were fished out of the Mediterranean Sea.

"Sub-Saharan," says Dr. Grima. "Eritreans and Somalis, probably." The doctor, who wears an ID card around his neck and a blue shirt, is head of the morgue. He is the guardian of the dead who have no names.

"Today we took their DNA and in two days we will perform autopsies," he says. "Over the weekend we will give them an inter-religious burial, like we did last time."

Though the world is now finally paying attention, everything seen here has already happened before. The 24 bodies will go to the Addolorata cemetery where they will be interred next to the 21 who died in the Oct. 11 2013 sinking, and an Eritrean who tried to escape from Malta's reception center on a small boat, but returned lifeless because of the strong currents.

"There is a specific part of the cemetery reserved for migrants," says Grima. That is where they bury these victims without names, and without religion to avoid mistakes.

The day after the wreck in 2013, we came to this hospital for the first time and the atmosphere was very different — in addition to the dead, there were survivors. Everyone was grabbing arms, pleading to make a phone call. They were shouting the names of their relatives in the hopes that answers would come. "Where is my mother?" "My son, my son … please tell me that he was brought to Lampedusa."

Where is Europe?

There was a Syrian boy who was frothing with rage, standing at the door, wearing a baseball cap turned backwards. His name was Molhake Al Roasrn and he made his sea journey from the Libyan port city of Zuwarah. "The Libyans began firing, wounding three people. Because of the panic, everyone came above deck and the ship overturned …"

Perhaps he lost some relatives in the wreck but that was not the reason for his anger. "This is not Europe," he kept repeating. "Yes, yes, you're in Europe now," we tried to console him. "It's not true. I wanted to go to Italy, then to Sweden. That is Europe."

A European Union nation, Malta is a quiet island with a mild climate. There are retired Italians who read newspapers in the sun, groups of English tourists, colonial-style hotels and school classes on field trips. For the immigrants who arrive here, it's a curse. "I didn't undertake that journey to end up here," said Molhake.

Yesterday morning at 9 a.m., the Italian Coast Guard's Gregoretti ship docked at Valletta's port, not far from one particularly large and luxurious yacht with a helicopter on board. Sitting on the main deck of the Italian military ship were survivors, wearing colorful jackets and lucky tracksuits. They watched the corpses being brought ashore, one by one, towards a black van with a cross on its side. "After the initial euphoria at being saved, the ship fell silent," said Captain Gianluigi Bove. "It was when they realized we would be carrying the dead too."

Everybody knows the end of this story too well: the perpetual condemnation to oblivion, an eternal distance from loved ones, the desire not be recognized anymore. In the face of the sheer scale of the latest tragedy, Mater Dei hospital chief Ivan Falzon posted a message on Facebook. "No one even knows who died. Nobody will bring flowers. So let us, as their friends and relatives would. We can try to at least make their deaths gentle."

This is why people are coming to the front of the morgue. People like Gloria Bugeja, who works with stray dogs. "It hurts to think that nobody is mourning these people," she says. "What do their parents know?" She lays a camellia beside the wreath that the Minister for Justice placed down. By 6 p.m. on Monday, eighteen bouquets of flowers had been placed, and at least one note: "For the unidentified dead in Mater Dei, hoping for an eternal paradise. Rest in peace."

Wednesday 22 April 2015

continue reading

Death toll rises to 19 in N China mine flooding

Nineteen people were confirmed dead as of 10 a.m. Wednesday at a flooded coal mine in the northern province of Shanxi, according to the nation's work safety regulator.

Rescuers have retrieved 19 bodies and are racing against time to rescue the remaining 2 miners trapped underground.

A total of 247 people were working in Jiangjiawan mine in Datong city when the accident occurred at around 6:50 p.m. on Sunday. Two hundred and twenty-three miners made it out safely, while 24 were trapped.

As of Tuesday afternoon, about 6,100 cubic meters of water had been pumped out from the shaft.

The coal mine, owned by Datong Coal Mine Group, has an annual production capacity of 900,000 tonnes.

The group has ordered all its small mines, many of which were previously privately owned, to suspend production for safety checks.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

continue reading

Sudan gold mine collapse leaves six people dead, dozens missing

A gold-mine collapse in Sudan’s western region of Darfur killed six people and may have left more than 30 others trapped underground, a community leader said.

The disaster occurred last week at the informal mine in al-Sireaf, in North Darfur’s Jebel Amer region, and rescue efforts have been made, according to Ibrahim Abdullah, head of the state’s Shura Council of Arab tribes. Afia Darfur, an online radio station covering the region, cited eyewitness Mahmoud Hemdan as saying eight bodies have been recovered.

“No one knows the real number of miners that remain under the wreckage, but they are probably more than 30,” Abdullah said by phone from North Darfur’s state capital, El Fasher, about 175 kilometers (110 miles) east of the mine.

Sudan is boosting gold production to offset the loss of three-quarters of its oil output when South Sudan seceded in July 2011. The North African nation produced a record 73.3 metric tons of the metal last year, at least 85 percent of which was extracted by informal, or artisanal, miners, according to the Mining Ministry.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

continue reading

South Korea sets plan to raise 'corroded' Sewol ferry year after disaster, nine still missing

South Korea said on Wednesday it will raise the Sewol ferry that sank a year ago, killing more than 300 people, most of them children, yielding to pressure from mourning families who have called for a deeper investigation into the disaster.

The Sewol, which was structurally unsound, overloaded and travelling too fast on a turn, capsized and sank during a routine voyage and lies 44 metres (144 feet) deep off the southwestern island of Jindo.

Of those killed, 250 were teenagers on a school trip, many of whom obeyed crew instructions to remain in their cabins even as crew members were seen on TV escaping the sinking vessel.

A government committee concluded that it would be possible to raise the 6,800-tonne vessel at a cost of 150 billion won (93 million pounds), the government said in a statement.

The work, which the government hopes can begin in September, could take up to 18 months and the cost could rise beyond 200 billion won depending on weather conditions and technical difficulties, it said.

"The primary risk is that the Sewol is a vessel built more than 20 years ago so there is corrosion in its body," Park In-yong, the retired navy admiral who heads the newly formed Ministry for Public Safety and Security, told a briefing.

"And it is lying on its left, so as we try to raise it without righting it, there may be structural weakening."

Raising the Sewol has been a central demand of victims' families, some of whom say the government let them down by failing to announce a salvage plan by the first anniversary of the disaster on April 16. Nine of the victims' bodies remain missing.

Relatives of the victims said the salvage plan was too late in coming.

"The government's announcement to salvage the ferry in September is really very preposterous," Lee Nam-seok, father of one of those killed, said.

The decision comes as President Park Geun-hye is under renewed political pressure, with her prime minister offering his resignation this week after a businessman and former lawmaker who committed suicide accused him of accepting illegal funds.

On Saturday, thousands of people including family members held a rally in central Seoul to protest what they said was government incompetence and foot dragging over raising the ship and allowing an independent probe into the disaster.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

continue reading