Tuesday, 30 June 2015

First bodies retrieved from bottom of Med Sea after migrant boat disaster in April

The Italian navy has brought to shore the first three bodies of more than 700 thought to be lying at the bottom of the Mediterranean after the worst migrant boat disaster since the Second World War.

It had been feared that the migrant victims of the shipwreck in April would lay buried on the seabed after the Sicilian public prosecutor investigating the disaster initially refused to bring up the bodies.

But authorities have now begun the grim task of recovering the victims, many of whom were locked inside the hold when the smuggling boat capsized and sank off the Libyan coast.

The bodies lie at a depth of around 370m below sea level and are being brought to shore with the help of a robot equipped with sonar technology and two ‘arms’ capable of lifting the weight of a human corpse. It takes around two hours for each body to be recovered.

The Navy has also recruited specialist divers, who are on board two boats, Gaeta and Leonardo.

The recovery operation began as another 2,900 migrants were rescued on Monday night, after 21 boats in the space of 24 hours were found drifting in Libyan waters. The coastguard, as well as Italian ships and British, Irish and Spanish navy vessels were all involved in the rescue operation.

The rescues lifted to nearly 68,000 the number of migrants to have landed in Italy this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, said last month that the victims of the April disaster would be brought up to show the world what had happened. “We will recover that boat and we will bring it up,” he said.

"I want everyone to see what happened. It is unacceptable to keep saying: what the eye does not see the heart cannot grieve.”

Italy and other Mediterranean countries are struggling to cope with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing the civil war in Syria and repression elsewhere in Africa by sea.

But Mr Renzi failed in a recent attempt to enforce compulsory quotas of refugees on EU member states. Tuesday 30 June 2015


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Nepal’s religious minorities battle for burial grounds

In a quiet corner in Rajahar, a small town in south-central Nepal, a two-decade old mosque serves not only as a place for prayer but also as one of few spaces unencumbered for the tiny, close-knit Muslim community.

On the adjoining lot, a church with a large compound and a classroom stands testament to the fact that the two religious minority groups in the Hindu majority country enjoy co-existence and interfaith harmony.

But life—or rather, death, to be specific—is harsh for them, beyond the confines of the prayer halls.

The 250-member Muslim community of Rajahar, in the district of Nawalparasi, braces for hostility whenever one among them dies.

“When someone in our community dies, we can’t bury him or her here because we don’t have a graveyard. We have to take the body to a forest in Chitwan [some 15 miles away] for burial. Even there we are faced with hostile locals, who harass us saying we were encroaching upon their land,” Nazamuddin Miya, 37, told Anadolu Agency.

A year ago, a 70-year old Muslim woman died in Rajahar. That afternoon, Miya and 30 other Muslims hired a bus that served as a hearse and drove to a forest in Ram Nagar in the neighboring Chitwan district.

Roughly 80 percent of Nepal’s 26.6 million people call themselves Hindus. Buddhists, the country’s second largest religious group, make up 9 percent of the population.

Nepal became a secular country after the end of Hindu monarchy in 2008, raising hopes of equal rights and representation for a melange of minority groups including Muslims, who make up roughly 4.4 percent, over a million of the population.

After the end of the decade-long Maoist insurgency in 2006, Nepal’s leaders pledged to deliver a democratic, inclusive constitution that addressed the grievances of marginalized communities, including Muslims and Christians.

Over the years, Nepali Muslims took part in protests demanding representation in the state structure, joining dozens of ethnic and regional groups agitating in the country’s eastern hills and Tarai plains.

But Muslim leaders say the state has continued to be discriminatory, denying them even basic rights to burial sites.

“A state doesn’t have a religion, but its citizens can follow any religion. Every religious community should be able to follow its rituals and practices. But the state has treated us like third-class citizens,” Roshan Kharel, a local Muslim leader, told Anadolu Agency.

“If the state allows us to be born as Muslim, it must also allow us to die as Muslim. And that’s when the issue of burial grounds becomes really significant for us. We have been struggling for it for several years but to no avail,” said Kharel, a former Hindu who converted to Islam during a stint as a migrant worker in Qatar.

The Muslims of Rajahar are not the only community that feels threatened and discriminated.

In Hetauda, a town of Makwanpur district, about 60 miles east of Rajahar, Christians face a similar ordeal.

“We don’t have any designated space for burial. We have buried our dead on a plot that belongs to a Hindu temple but we often face resistance from locals and temple authorities,” said Prashant Dev, a local Christian leader and publisher of a monthly Christian newspaper.

He said the Christian members of Makwanpur district, home to 22,000 Christians, have often fought for the designation of a burial ground.

“We have organized protests demanding a burial ground; I have led several delegations to the local administrator and forest office, but nothing has come out of it,” Dev told Anadolu Agency.

With the local authorities turning a deaf ear, he said, his community members were forced to buy land for a graveyard or donate to some of the 300 churches in the district to secure the burial sites.

When Nepal was hit by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in April, nearly 10 percent of fatalities were Christians, who were in the middle of a weekly congregation.

Christians in Nepal congregate on Saturday – the day of the quake – taking advantage of the country's single-day weekend, said C. B. Gahatraj, a pastor and general secretary of the National Federation of Christians, a 5,700-member organization.

“Unfortunately, the districts that were hardest hit—Gorkha, Dhading, Sindhupalchok, Nuwakot and Kavre—are also places where most Nepali Christians live. That morning, they had gathered for prayers. So the congregants were killed in the earthquake,” he said, adding that the quake destroyed 93 churches and damaged 500 more in central and eastern Nepal.

Out of a total 8,844 victims of the quake, 778 were Christians, with most buried while praying in two neighborhoods of the capital Kathmandu and in several hamlets of the badly-hit Sindhupalchok district. While many agree on the numbers of the dead, there is no consensus on the nationwide population of Christians in Nepal. The national census puts the figure at 300,000 while Christian leaders claim there are 2.5 million.

“After the earthquake, lack of space for burial in Kathmandu forced us to move the bodies to the districts where they came from. We had been demanding burial grounds even the day before the earthquake,” Gahatraj told Anadolu Agency.

The minority religious group has fought a long and hard battle for burial grounds.

In early 2011, the issue of Christian cemeteries came to the fore after the Pashupati Area Development Trust, an autonomous body that oversees the country’s oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, said it would no longer allow non-Hindus to use the Shleshmantak forest for burials.

While dozens of bodies are cremated everyday on the banks of the Bagmati River in the temple premises, Christians secretly buried their dead in the nearby forest.

A prolonged legal battle and hunger strikes ensued. After a 40-day relay hunger strike in May 2011, the government agreed to meet the Christian community’s demands for burial grounds and formed a high level committee to look into the issue.

A year later, with the committee dragging its feet and the government reluctant to provide space for a cemetery, the Christian community resumed the public protests.

“Despite our protests and after several pledges, the government has failed to address our grievances. The state simply is not paying any attention to our plight,” Gahatraj said.

Aside from the state, the majoritarian Hindu community has also grown intolerant of the minority religious groups’ rights.

Gahatraj and Dev both cited incidents in which they were not allowed to bury their dead on riverbanks, with local people intent on denying them last rites in accordance with Christian rituals.

When a family buried the dead body of a 68-year-old Christian man on their own land, locals protested by pulling the body out and leaving it on the family’s courtyard, Gahatraj said, recalling the 2013 incident in the district of Kavre, in central Nepal.

“Then, we buried him on the banks of a nearby river. Even then, his body was unearthed,” he said.

Their attempt to give the dead man a modicum of burial was foiled again after they buried the body at a forest in Kavre district.

“It had already been several days since his death and the body began to decompose,” Gahatraj recalled.

He and the dead man’s family then hired a pick-up truck and drove several hours, first to Kathmandu and then further west.

When they were about to bury the body on the banks of the Trishuli River, a group of locals, having noticed the activities, arrived on the riverbank amid a glow of torchlight in the night.

“We were allowed to bury the body only after handing 5,000 rupees ($50) to them,” he said.

Tuesday 30 June 2015


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Floods, landslides leave at least 28 dead or missing in China

Rain-triggered floods and landslides in four provinces since Friday have left at least 28 people dead or missing.

Five people have died in landslides in Shangcheng County, Henan Province, where heavy rain has forced the evacuation of nearly 800 people, the collapse of 100 dwellings and damage to over 200 buildings, according to the county's publicity office.

Over 6,700 hectares of crops have been damaged and power and communications have also been affected.

It is estimated that the weather has caused direct economic losses of 305 million yuan (about 49.9 million U.S. dollars).

In Shaanxi Province, floods have killed four people and left nine others missing in Foping County, where economic losses are estimated at about 170 million yuan. Power and communications were disrupted in most townships, according to the county government.

In Sichuan Province, two people were killed by landslides in Nanjiang County, which reported its worst floods since 1949. The disaster forced the relocation of 263,000 people across 48 townships. Another woman was killed by a landslide in Sichuan's Pengxi County.

On Monday it was confirmed that two people had died and five were still missing after heavy rain caused floods and landslides in Jinzhai County, Anhui Province. The downpour has battered seven provinces and a municipality in China.

Tuesday 30 June 2015


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Service men killed in crash en route to Vietnam remembered

Fifty years ago, 84 U.S. service men boarded an Air Force jet near Irvine bound for war-torn Vietnam, prepared to defend their country.

But the men never received their marching orders.

Shortly after the C-135 aircraft took off at El Toro Marine Air Station on June 25, 1965, it slammed into nearby Loma Ridge. The downed jet erupted in flames, spewing bodies and parts of bodies over the grassy hilltop across a mile-wide radius. All 72 Marines aboard and the 12-man Air Force crew died in the crash. The cause of the accident was never determined.

Five decades later, the crash remains the deadliest air disaster in Orange County history. But the servicemen's sacrifice was not remembered on any monument. Their names are not etched on the Vietnam Memorial walls in Washington because they died in the U.S., before receiving their official orders, the organizers of a new tribute say.

So 15-year-old Jordan Fourcher created an interactive memorial kiosk at the Aviation and Heritage Museum at Orange County Great Park, formerly the El Toro Marine base, to honor the men who lost their lives in that fatal flight. The kiosk will feature a metal base, engraved with the names of the men, and a touch-screen interactive kiosk with biographical information about each of the men, he said.

Fourcher spent a year working on a lasting monument as part of his Eagle Scout project.

"I was going to do a metal plaque in a park," said the Corona Del Mar resident. "But it turned into something so much more. Everything aligned and worked out perfectly."

On Saturday, more than 50 family members of the deceased are expected to gather at the Great Park for the unveiling of the memorial inside the Great Park hangar. Irvine Mayor Steven Choi, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and Mimi Walters are expected to attend the event, which will feature a Marine Corps color guard and a missing man flyover with World War II-era aircrafts, Pat Macha, one of the event's organizer, said.

"Jordan has done a wonderful job on this," Macha said. "It is just amazing."

Tuesday 30 June 2015


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At least 38 dead after military plane crashes in Indonesian city

At least 38 people have been killed after an Indonesian military plane crashed Tuesday in a residential neighborhood of Medan city in North Sumatra, a police official said, according to the Associated Press.

The pilot of the Hercules C-130 told the air control tower that the plane needed to turn back because of engine trouble, Air Marshall Agus Supriatna reportedly said.

"The plane crashed while it was turning right to return to the airport," Supriatna said, adding that there were 17 military personnel on board the plane.

Twelve crew members were on board the plane, air force operations commander Agus Dwi Putranto said on local television, according to the Associated Press (AP), adding that the total number of passengers on board was unknown. Authorities reportedly said that a rescue operation is underway.

A local hospital spokeswoman Sairi M. Saragih said that the hospital had received five bodies so far, according to AP.

Television footage showed the wreckage of the downed C-130 Hercules, a crumpled burning car and a shattered building that local media said contained a spa. Smoke billowed from the site and several thousand people milled nearby.

North Sumatra police chief Eko Hadi Sutedjo told reporters that the plane was carrying 50 people based on its manifest.

He said 37 bodies have been transported to Medan's Adam Malik hospital and include a child who was probably about a year old.

None of the bodies has been identified and it's unclear how many of the victims are military personnel and how many are civilians, Sutedjo said.

The crash of the transport plane occurred just two minutes after it took off from Soewondo air force base.

Air force chief Air Marshall Agus Supriatna said the pilot told the control tower that the plane needed to turn back because of engine trouble.

"The plane crashed while it was turning right to return to the airport," Supriatna said.

Medan resident Fahmi Sembiring said he saw the gray Hercules flying very low as he was driving.

"Flames and black smoke were coming from the plane in the air," he said. Sembiring said he stopped not far from the crash site and saw several people rescued by police, security guards and bystanders.

Indonesia has a patchy aviation safety record. Between 2007 and 2009, the European Union barred Indonesian airlines from flying to Europe because of safety concerns. The country's most recent civilian airline disaster was in December, when an AirAsia jet with 162 people on board crashed into the Java Sea en route from Surabaya to Singapore.

The C-130 accident is the second time in 10 years that an airplane has crashed into a Medan neighborhood. In September 2005, a Mandala Airlines Boeing 737 crashed into a crowded residential community shortly after takeoff from Medan's Polonia airport, killing 143 people including 30 on the ground.

Medan, with about 3.4 million people, is the third most populous city in Indonesia after the capital, Jakarta, and Surabaya.

Tuesday 30 June 2015



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Italy begins recovery of 800 migrant bodies from Med shipwreck

The Italian navy said it had begun efforts to recover the bodies of some 800 migrants killed in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean in April, as authorities rescued another 4,400 people making the dangerous sea journey to Europe.

The April 18 tragedy was the deadliest sinking in the sea between Europe and Africa in decades and sparked international calls for reinforced efforts to deal with the growing migrant crisis.

"The navy... has begun the recovery of bodies outside the trawler that sank on April 18... from a depth of around 380 metres (1,246 feet)," the navy said on Twitter.

Only 28 people survived the shipwreck at the time, out of an estimated 800 on board when the vessel set sail from Libya.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi last month announced that he wanted the wreck to be brought to the surface and victims' bodies returned to their families for burial, saying the country could not "bury its conscience at a depth of 387 metres".

Also on Monday, Italian authorities said they were dealing with the arrival of another 4,400 migrants after a series of boats were rescued in the space of 48 hours from waters off Libya.

The rescues lifted to more 69,000 -- a record for the first half of the year -- the number of migrants to have landed in Italy so far this year, according to figures compiled by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The latest operations involved Italian ships, British, Irish and Spanish navy vessels and a boat operated by Malta-based humanitarian organisation MOAS, the Italian coastguard said.

- 80,000 migrants -

The surge in migrant arrivals since the start of 2015 has left Italy's reception facilities, currently housing around 80,000 asylum-seekers and others seeking leave to remain in the country, under severe strain.

The situation is likely to get worse over the summer when the numbers of boats dispatched by people smugglers usually peaks. Of last year's arrivals, some 100,000 arrived between June and September.

The sharp increase in migrant arrivals has left Italy's centre-left government under constant attack from the country's vocal far-right and some regions are threatening to refuse to house any more migrants.

The crisis has also put Italy at loggerheads with its European Union partners over contested proposals to spread some asylum-seekers across the bloc and moves by neighbouring countries to tighten their border controls to restrict the numbers of migrants travelling out of Italy on their way to northern Europe.

Italy regards these moves as breaching the principles of solidarity and of free movement of people within Europe. On the other side of the debate there is a perception that Italy is not sufficiently rigorous about registering new arrivals at its ports and sending economic migrants back to their countries of origin as a deterrent to others thinking of making the trip.

According to aid groups, just over half of the migrants arriving in Italy have a legitimate claim to asylum, mostly as a result of having fled conflict in Syria or repression in Eritrea.

The civil war in Syria is also seen as being behind a surge in asylum-seekers arriving in Greece, where over 80,000 migrants have arrived this year, three quarters of them on boats which mostly leave from Turkey.

This year has also seen a sharp increase in the numbers of migrants dying during the crossings with over 1,800 fatalities reported en route to Italy and at least 27 off Greece, according to the IOM.

Tuesday 30 June 2015


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Monday, 29 June 2015

30 more human trafficking victims buried today

The remains of 30 human trafficking victims believed to be Rohingya migrants from Myanmar, found at Bukit Wang Burma, Wang Kelian last month, were buried at a cemetery in Kampung Tualang today.

Kedah Islamic Religious Department (JAIK) director Datuk Noh Dahya said 28 of the victims were men who were buried en masse in a grave, while the bodies of two women were laid to rest in an adjacent grave.

The burial started at 3.50am and ended at 5.30am, he added.

He said there were still 55 remains of human trafficking victims undergoing post mortems at the Sultanah Bahiyah Hospital, with 40 of them expected to be buried next week.

Last week, JAIK buried 21 bodies of human trafficking victims which were found in Wang Kelian.

The burial was carried out by JAIK and the National Security Council with the assistance of local villagers, the police and members of the Kedah Rohingya Welfare Association.

Monday 28 June 2015


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Connecticut: When a loved one goes missing, there are no easy answers

When someone goes missing in Connecticut, how hard police work to find the person can depend on which agency gets the case, officials say.

“Some will go all out; some will just take a report. It’s the luck of the draw,” said New Britain State’s Attorney Brian Preleski, who heads up a task force investigating the disappearance and murders of seven people whose remains were found in New Britain in 2007 and a few months ago. “The extent of the investigation depends on who you get.”

In a second interview, Preleski clarified those comments, saying, “To some extent, that’s true of anything in life.” He admitted there was no easy answer, but agreed that creating a less fragmented approach to investigating missing persons is “something we should think about.”

How missing persons cases are handled has come into sharper focus in recent weeks after New Britain police unearthed the remains of four more victims of a presumed serial killer. Those bodies, buried behind a strip mall on Hartford Road, joined three other sets of remains discovered in the same patch of woods in 2007.

All seven people disappeared in 2003, which has raised questions about why it took nearly 12 years to find and identify them all.

During those years, the families of some of the victims sought help from police in finding their loved ones, but say they got few answers.

Sources have named William Devin Howell as the suspected killer. He’s currently in jail, serving a 15-year sentence on a manslaughter conviction handed down in 2005 for what at that time was the presumed death of one of the missing victims, Nilsa Arizmendi.

Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane concedes there’s often no easy way to form a unified unit to investigate missing persons cases, but said police should at least review state policy changes from 2011 that include clearly defined steps departments should take when they get a missing persons case.

“Room for improvement”

“Clearly, there is room for improvement,” Kane said. “But we don’t want to set up a process where we are spending so much time screening cases that we have no time to investigate them. We took a good look at this in 2011 and we made some good progress, but we really haven’t taken a second look at it.”

Howell, a drifter from the South, was in this area in 2003, when the seven people disappeared.

The remains of three of the victims, Mary Jane Menard, Joyvaline Martinez and Diane Cusack, were discovered in 2007. The remains of Arizmendi, Melanie Ruth Camilini, Danny Lee Whistnant and Marilyn Gonzales were found at the same location.

All disappeared in 2003 and it took until just this spring to finally find all of their remains and to identify them because of errors made several years ago at the state crime lab, officials have said.

The lab sought and obtained a federal grant to start a cold case unit in part because of the New Britain serial killer case, said Dr. Guy Vallaro. It also has a missing persons unit which works with police departments and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to identify remains and gather DNA samples from families of missing persons.

The investigation took a new turn last week as members of the serial killer task force went to Hampton, Va., to search a house where Howell once lived. That search included digging up the yard to search for human remains, but nothing was found, officials said.

Until the victims were recently identified, they were among more than 1,000 cold cases in the state, including missing persons, cases that haven’t had a good lead in years.

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) lists 168 missing persons in Connecticut. The number may not be accurate since police are not required to use NamUs, which can be viewed by the public, and often instead list missing persons on state and national data banks only available to law enforcement.

The techniques used to investigate vary from agency to agency. New Britain police will use “cold case cards” distributed to prison inmates in the hope they may have gleaned some information during their prison stints. They are the only playing cards inmates are allowed to use and each features a different cold case.

“Good police work must be applied to every missing persons case,” New Britain Police Chief James Wardwell said. “Any good detective will not just look within the confines of their municipality.”

There are several specialized units within the state that deal with missing persons and cold cases, but their participation in a case often depends entirely on whether the local police department in charge of the case asks for help.

Ultimately, Wardwell said, good training and good information from families are some of the best investigative tools officers need when investigating a missing person. “Law enforcement must review every missing persons case as if the missing person is in danger,” he said. “The vast majority are not. Some are runaway juveniles who are endangered because they are on the streets. In most cases, they turn up.”

“The best thing a family can do is be honest with police,” Wardwell said. “We need to know their habits, where they might get drugs, who they hang out with, where they hang out. It’s not a time to worry about snitching, folks need to be focused on the person’s safety.”

Local police can also call on the state’s Missing Persons Unit for assistance.

“We are more than willing to help any agency,” said Sgt. Matthew Gunsalus, who supervises the unit. “We will help facilitate anything that they need.” Formed in 2012, the unit has three detectives working on 12 missing persons cases and 18 unidentified human remains cases. It works with local agencies and have staff assigned to the New Britain Serial Killer Task Force, Gunsalus said.

As part of its statutory responsibilities created in a 2011 change in state law, the unit sends out Amber Alerts for missing children and Silver Alerts for missing adults over 18 who are considered disabled or have mental health issues or are over the age of 65.

It routinely contacts national clearinghouses, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. Both have databases that can be seen by the public as well as law enforcement.

State database

It also enters information on missing persons into the state database, which connects with the National Crime Information Center, which can be accessed only by law enforcement personnel.

Gunsalus said his unit does not handle cases outside the jurisdiction of the state police unless asked. He said he could not say how many missing persons there were in Connecticut without consulting his agency’s legal affairs department.

Kristin Sasinouski, technical leader at the state forensic lab DNA unit, said there’s a “discordance” between the number of DNA samples submitted to CODIS and NamUs. Many times, a person is listed as missing on NamUs but family members have not been asked to submit a DNA sample. Sasinouski’s goal is to urge family members who are missing a loved one to submit known samples to the laboratory for DNA testing.

Although Sasinouski heads the state lab’s missing persons unit, she does not have access to the NCIC database and does not know how many Connecticut missing persons are listed in that database.

The collection of DNA from family members is vital to the process, Sasinouski said. “As samples from missing persons and their relatives and/or unidentified remains are processed at the laboratory, they are uploaded into CODIS, where they search at both the State and National level against other missing persons-type cases,” she said. “This allows identifications to be made all across the country as well as within our own state.”

To search NamUs or find out more info on how to supply missing persons info to NamUs, use these links: identifyus.org/en/cases/state/7 or findthemissing.org/en/cases/state/7.

Monday 29 June 2015


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Year after building collapse in Moulivakkam, scars remain to haunt city

A partially constructed 11-storey building, certified as unsafe, stands testimony to one of the worst building tragedy the city has witnessed a year ago with the loss of more than 60 lives.

On June 28, 2014, a multi-storey building under construction on Kundrathur Main Road collapsed after a downpour. “It was a black Saturday, one that all of us want to forget,” says a resident of Rajarajan Nagar in Moulivakkam.

A year has passed since the tragedy happened but the scars still remain even as Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) is trying to amend development regulations and ensure that such incidents don’t recur.

According to CREDAI’s national chairman for Best Practices T Chitty Babu, the incident was a wake-up call for developers as well as authorities. “It resulted in responsibilities being fixed on every individual be it builder, developer, buyer or regulator. The whole system got tightened,” he said.

Exactly a year later, the flat owners stand helpless and exhausted. It has been a tough year for these middle-class Chennaiites, one that they spent paying hefty sums for a dead investment. It also brought the retirement savings and salaries of many to a pile of rubble.

The incident left 61 construction workers from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha dead. A total of 27 workers were rescued after week-long operations by various agencies including National Disaster Response Force from Arakkonam.

Journalists who rushed to Ground Zero at Moulivakkam on the day of collapse, were struck with utter disbelief. “When I first received the news alert around 4:30 pm, I thought that it was a fatal accident due to wall collapse. Even the Fire Services Department didn’t know the magnitude of the tragedy that had struck,” recounted J Santosh. After confirming the incident, Santosh rushed to the spot from the Vepery office, braving the heavy rain and traffic jam.

At the other end of the city, photojournalist Albin Mathew, one of the first mediapersons to reach the spot, said that the front entrance to the building complex was cordoned off as there were rumours that the second building had tilted and might collapse. “When I reached there around 6:30 pm, there were only policemen at the site, trying to rescue the workers stuck under the rubble. They were joined by a few other contract labourers, who were not skilled for this. The rescue operations became organised only after the NDRF men reached at 9:30 pm with their specialised equipment,” recounted Albin.

Relatives of those trapped under the rubble were shocked and in grief. Many of them hailed from Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, and the language barrier complicated the problem, added Santosh.

There were persons alive under the rubble, making themselves heard through a tiny opening. Santosh watched as the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services officers communicated with those under the rubble, passing a bottle of water first and later breaking the concrete pieces one-by-one to pull them out. “Every time someone alive was pulled out, there was a collective loud cheer by those watching. It boosted the morale of those engaged in rescue operations,” recalled Santosh, who had perched himself on the terrace of another house to get a bird’s eye view of the rescue operations.

A number of bodies pulled out from the rubble, were shifted to the Sri Ramachandra Medical College (SRMC) in Porur. Martin Louis, a photojournalist assigned to cover a function in IIT-Madras, recalled missing a number of calls as his phone was inside his bag due to the rains. “When we came to know, we rushed to SRMC. There was some confusion there as another accident had taken place on the highway and bodies were coming from there as well. For a while, nobody understood if the injured and dead were from Moulivakkam or the highway accident,” Martin said. He was accompanied by reporter Pradeep Kumar, who said, “The mood at the hospital was one of high anxiety and tension. Everytime an ambulance came in, relatives of the labourers would rush to check if it was their kin, and if he or she was alive or dead.”

Monday 29 June 2015



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Orange County's deadliest air disaster occurred 50 years ago

The deadliest air disaster in Orange County history occurred 50 years ago this month.

In the early morning of June 25, 1965, an Air Force C-135 Stratolifter with 72 Marines and 12 crew members took off from El Toro Marine Corps Air Station and crashed into a nearby mountain.

Here's a retrospective from The Times' reporting:

Death was instantaneous for all aboard as the huge jet disintegrated in flames on a grass-covered hillside a mile wide.

A Marine spokesman said the aircraft should have climbed more rapidly after taking off from the 380-foot-elevation runway and also banked to the left toward the ocean.

Officials said the airport tower lost contact with the plane immediately after giving clearance for takeoff at 1:45 a.m. and then lost radar contact.

On the plane were 70 enlisted men from the 2nd Replacement Company, Staging Battalion, Camp Pendleton, who were being transferred to the 3rd Marine Division at Okinawa. Under normal replacement procedures, the 70 had been recruited from all over the country.

Some members of the 3rd Marine Division were fighting in Vietnam.

Two other Marines were "hitchhiking" a ride, Camp Pendleton reported.

It took more than four hours to find the crash site because fog and drizzle obscured the mountains.

At 6 a.m., Chief Warrant Officer John W. Andre, 46, and a four-man crew spotted the crashed plane from a helicopter on the fourth search flight of the early morning.

"At first I thought there were survivors shining flashlights at us," Andre said. "Then we got closer and saw they were little grass fires."

Andre maneuvered low enough to drop off a medical officer, Navy Lt. L. B. Frenger, and a crewman, Sgt. Bill Hastings.

"As soon as we looked," Hastings said, "we could tell there was no one left.

"Even rabbits were dead."

By late afternoon, all 84 bodies had been removed or located in hard-to-reach areas. The Orange County coroner's staff had identified many through dog tags and fingerprints and were trying to identify others.

At Camp Pendleton, 20 miles to the south, 1,400 men from the replacement company were assigned to call their next of kin from a mobile telephone trailer to report that they weren't aboard the ill-fated plane.

The crash was debated frequently during the long battle over whether to turn El Toro, which was closed by the Pentagon in the 1990s, into a civilian airport.

Airport foes argued that the crash showed it was unsafe for commercial jets.

In 2000, airport critics aired a cable television spot with footage of the crash.

Some former El Toro commanders slammed the ad, noting the crash was caused by pilot error and not, as the ad suggests, by an unsafe northern runway. They accused the anti-airport forces of "capitalizing on pain and human suffering just to make a political point."

The spot shows body bags being hauled into a helicopter after what remains the county's worst aviation disaster.

The ad's creators argued it was a public service because it showed the danger of turning El Toro into an airport, a plan that was eventually scrapped.

On Saturday, officials gathered to remember those who died in 1965.

Eagle Scout Jordan Fourcher, 15, created an interactive memorial kiosk at a park at the old base. It features a metal base engraved with the names of the victims and an interactive touch screen with biographical information about the men.

Monday 29 June 2015


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Sunday, 28 June 2015

Flash floods, landslides death toll rises to 23 in southeastern Bangladesh

At least 23 people have died in flash floods and landslides triggered by heavy rains that lashed southeastern Bangladesh, officials said on Sunday.

Tens of thousands of people were marooned on higher ground as flood waters submerged areas around Cox's Bazar and the hilly district of Bandarban.

Local police official Habibur Rahman confirmed the toll to reporters after four more bodies were recovered from a river on Sunday.

Bangladesh - one of the world's most densely populated countries - is highly vulnerable to natural disasters, including cyclones, droughts, floods and earthquakes.

India, Bangladesh and China are most at risk from river floods, with an increasing number of people threatened because of climate change and economic growth in low-lying regions, a study said in March.

Sunday 28 June 2015


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Saddam-era mass grave found in Basra province

Iraqi forensic teams in the southern province of Basra have found a mass grave containing 377 corpses apparently killed during the 1991 Shiite uprisings against Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, said Iraqi human rights officials Sunday.

A statement released by Mehdi Tamimi, an Iraqi government human rights officer, said that the mass grave was found in the east of Basra province. According to Tamimi, the grave is the second biggest mass grave ever found in southern Iraq.

“The first stage of exhuming bodies has been initiated. Bodies are mainly believed to be women and children,” Tamimi said, adding that the forensic teams need larger budgets for further excavations.

According to Tamimi, there are more than 40 mass graves in Basra province. He emphasized the importance of preserving graves in order for them to be documented properly.

A Shiite uprising in 1991 started following the Gulf War upheavals against Saddam Hussein’s rule in the country. After the failure of the uprisings, hundreds of Iraqi citizens were killed by the regime.

Sunday 28 June 2015


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Karachi heat wave: 82 unidentified bodies buried in Edhi graveyard

Around 82 unidentified bodies, most of whom were victims of the heatstroke, were buried in the Edhi graveyard in the past two days, officials told The Express Tribune.

On Saturday, 25 bodies were buried while a day earlier, 57 bodies were buried, said the Edhi foundation’s spokesperson, Anwar Kazmi.

Mass funerals and burials for the deceased were held at the Edhi graveyard at Mawach Goth, which was established in 1985 to bury unidentified persons. The official said that due to the hot weather, unidentified bodies were being buried at the earliest. “The heat is damaging the bodies and we are burying them before they start to decompose. It is also difficult to store them once their condition deteriorates.”

In the graveyard, the bodies are distinguished from one another by a number allotted to the grave. Kazmi said that most people who are buried in this graveyard are poor.

He added that the relief in the weather had also improved conditions at the Edhi morgue, which was overcrowded earlier. By Saturday, 60 bodies were kept at the Edhi morgue, which has a capacity of 200 bodies.

Sunday 28 June 2015


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Pakistan heat wave: Death toll exceeds 1,200

The death toll from a weeklong heat wave in Karachi, Pakistan, has risen to 1,233, officials told the Associated Press Saturday. Some 65,000 people flooded the city’s hospitals to be treated for heat stroke, and about 1,900 patients were still receiving medical care as the country began to cool off.

“The government quickly responded by making arrangements for the treatment of heat stroke patients, and the situation has improved now," said Nazar Mohammad Bozdar, operations director at the Provincial Disaster Management Authority.

The heat wave started in earnest June 20, with temperatures climbing to 113 degrees Fahrenheit -- the hottest it’s been since 2000, CNN reported. The extreme weather came at the same time as Ramadan, a holy month most Muslims observe by fasting. Karachi’s power grid also collapsed, leaving thousands without air conditioning in a city already facing power cuts and water shortages.

The elderly and the poor were most affected, and they went to hospitals in droves for heatstroke and dehydration. The dead soon overflowed the city’s morgues. “They are piling bodies one on top of the other,” hospital official Seemin Jamali told Al Jazeera this week. To Dawn, he added, “We are continuously receiving people in a critical condition or dead.”

Pakistan’s laws forbid people from drinking and eating in public in daylight during Ramadan. As the heat wave has continued -- and worsened -- some Muslim religious leaders departed from tradition and encouraged followers to break the fast for health reasons.

The heat started to subside Saturday, with sea breezes and clouds taking temperatures to the mid-90s. But authorities in the Meteorological Department told Samaa Karachi could see 104-degree temperatures Sunday. “It has never been this bad,” meteorologist Farooq Dar told Time magazine this week.

Sunday 28 June 2015


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Naming the dead: Identifying Brooks County migrant bodies falls to dedicated volunteers

Kate Spradley was scrolling through the national database of missing people when she noticed a report contained a small detail, the color of a shirt, that made her pause.

A man Spradley calls Oscar, from El Salvador, was reported missing by a family member in Houston. He and a group of undocumented migrants circumvented the Border Patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias by trekking through sandy, rugged terrain. When Oscar was injured, another migrant tied a brown plaid shirt his leg to help him walk.

Spradley knew there was a body in the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University, one of dozens of unidentified migrants exhumed from Brooks County’s Sacred Heart Cemetery, that had been buried with a brown plaid shirt.

It’s the type of clue Spradley, an associate professor of anthropology, and a community of volunteers spend hours painstakingly documenting in hopes of identifying people who died crossing rural Brooks County to destinations north.

While exhuming the bodies during the past two summers gives the deceased a chance to be returned to their families, it’s far from the end of the journey.

Some loved ones of those who died in Brooks County already have waited years to learn what happened to their family members. The volume of cases, 90 total, mean they still have months or years left to wait.

“This is the equivalent of having a mass d

isaster dropped off at our lab,” she said. “It needs to be done to give them a chance to be identified.” VOLUNTEER STATE

Spradley directs Operation Identification for the Reuniting Families project, an all-volunteer organization of forensic scientists working to return Brooks County migrant remains to their loved ones. She and Texas State University students were joined in June by volunteers from Indiana, New York and Ohio.

The reports they create — biological profiles — are needed before a DNA sample can be taken, Spradley said. The information is added to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

“We consider this a humanitarian crisis just due to the sheer number,” Krista Latham, associate professor of biology and anthropology at the University of Indianapolis and a Reuniting Families director.

In the classroom of the anthropology center, Latham and three University of Indianapolis graduate students took turns inspecting each bone — from the cranium to tiny bones from the toes — of each skeleton arranged on the carpet-covered table. She said each person involved gives them a chance to find an individualizing characteristic that will help family members recognize their loved one’s remains.

With Latham was 33-year-old Justin Maiers, of Lapeer, Michigan. He first saw helping with the migrant grave exhumation in Brooks County as a learning opportunity, Maiers said. But volunteers have since built personal connections with the local community impacted by and responding to unidentified migrant deaths.

“To go from handling one set of remains to handling dozens at a time was almost a system overload,” he said. “That’s just in Brooks County. Multiply that across the border, and it’s hard to wrap your brain around how huge of an issue it actually is.”

In a small room down the hall, Ohio State University doctoral student Victoria Dominguez and Texas State University graduate student Lauren Meckel photographed a skeleton as part of a migrant’s biological profile. While Meckel grew up in Spring, her father is from McAllen, an area heavily traveled by undocumented immigrants who travel north on U.S. Highway 281 through Brooks County.

“The idea that we can help identify some of these people whose families are looking for them brings it home for me,” the 27-year-old said. “I think anthropologists have a natural instinct to want to help people, and we’re lucky to be able to do what we do.”


Before the skeletons and personal effects can be examined, they must be cleaned.

Four volunteers in blue protective gowns and purple latex gloves worked steadily over plastic basins and a sink in an examining room at the center, permeated by the sour, salty odor of the bodies.

Two students from Binghamton University, State University of New York campus, washed clothes the migrants wore while traveling. The garments were heavy and dark, often worn in multiple layers. Not the kinds of things the students imagined people choosing to wear in tough terrain.

“That’s sad because they probably don’t have any other options where they’re coming from, and it’s hurting them,” Amy Szen, 23 of Buffalo, New York. “It’s landing them here.”

Szen and Susan Sincerbox, a 21-year-old from Hammondsport, New York, offered to volunteer in San Marcos after Spradley visited their university to talk about the project. They both are studying anthropology, and Sincerbox admits before arriving she wondered: “Am I going to be able to handle it?”

“It’s a great opportunity to do some work that’s actually going to make a difference,” she said.

Personal effects of migrants are hugely important for identification, Latham said. Families remember the last thing they saw their missing relative wearing.

On a stainless steel table rested a black bra, underwear and a brown shirt with a stripe of color that indicates it may have once been red. Szen washed and added parts of an asthma inhaler.

On a top shelf, they placed a black shirt, a pair of tennis shoes — size U.S. 3.5 — a Guatemalan coin and a morgue tag dated July 12, 2013.

Texas State University students Eastman Barnard and Dustin Posey used toothbrushes to scrub soft tissue from vertebra. The bones would be set out to dry before being analyzed.

It can be tough at times, Eastman said, but it needs to be done.

“There’s definitely a human aspect that gets to you from time to time,” the 22-year-old Austin native said. “You feel like you’re helping rather than memorizing more information.”

As the group continued its work, Meckle broke the relative silence with the high-pitched whir of her bone saw. She planned to cut a sample from a femur until it was thin enough to allow light to pass through, then look at it under a microscope to help determine the individual’s age.

“We’ll have better methods of identification as a result of that,” Spradley said of Meckle’s research.

The science of determining age by bones was developed using skeletons of people who didn’t perform a lot of manual labor, Spradley said. When applied to migrant remains found in Brooks County, “they over-age individuals.” Some migrant profiles entered into the national missing persons database have age ranges of 25 to 99 years old.


It took Spradley a year and a half to fully understand how an unidentified migrant body is returned to the deceased’s family. She’s also learned how to troubleshoot when bureaucratic roadblocks surface.

When her team received the body of a Honduran woman, they found an ID card in her shoe and matched it to her missing person report. A positive DNA match followed. It was the team’s first identification.

However, it was another year before the woman’s remains were sent home. For eight months of the yearlong delay, Spradley said she tried without success to reach the Falfurrias funeral home in charge of changing the name on the death certificate.

“It’s a long process, and there’s lots of roadblocks, so we have to be able to think on our feet,” she said.

The second match was Oscar, the man found with the brown shirt tied around his leg. The third was a man from El Salvador, identified after Spradley shared migrant DNA profiles with a forensics team in Argentina.

A DNA sample, typically from a small foot bone, is sent to the University of North Texas to be entered into a database of missing people. But that process has complications of its own. The university requires a U.S. law enforcement agent to collect a DNA sample from the migrant’s family for comparison, which Spradley said means family members must travel from Central and South America to the United States.

“If we could cross the Argentine database with UNT, we’d probably have hundreds of matches within a week,” she said.

While much of the work identifying migrants is done by forensic anthropologists, the people who have the power to reunite remains with families are Brooks County justices of the peace. The deaths occur in their jurisdictions, and they are the ones who accept or reject DNA matches.

The distance makes it tough for Spradley to reach them. Staff in the past have wrongly insisted the justices are not responsible for authorizing a body’s release to foreign consulates, who send the remains home. At those times, she is assisted by Eddie Canales of the Falfurrias-based South Texas Human Rights Center.

“Eddie had been helpful in going across the street (from his office) and getting a signature,” she said.

Brooks County has received state grants to recover remains and periodic assistance searching for them. But identifying the bodies falls to volunteers like Spradley, Latham and their students. They’re not paid for their time. Some don’t even get class credit.

“We’re trying to make the policy better, but it’s really hard,” Spradley said. “It’s the most difficult thing I’ve done professionally, but it’s also the most professionally rewarding, working with people who care.”

Sunday 28 June 2015


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New law addresses rising death toll of unidentified border crossers

More than 1,000 immigrants have died in the Rio Grande Valley since 2005, the majority of whose bodies remain unidentified, because local authorities lack the resources to investigate their deaths and to extract their DNA.

But a bill signed June 22 by Gov. Greg Abbott tasks the Texas Forensic Science Commission (TFSC) with establishing methods of extracting DNA and other forensic evidence from unidentified bodies found less than 120 miles from the Texas border.

This first-of-its-kind legislation was attached as a last minute amendment to Senate Bill 1287 during its final reading in the House. Authored by state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, the bill addressed the licensing and regulation of forensic analysts and TFSC’s administration.

But state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, saw a different opportunity.

“It was spontaneous. I just noticed the subject of the bill and it got me out of my chair,” Canales said. “I ran to the front of the house and said, I have an amendment to this bill, hold on.”

The bill narrowly passed the House by a two-vote margin and Abbott signed it into law along with Canales’ amendment.

“I think it was one of my most exciting moments in the legislator,” Canales said. “I was a little over jubilant that it passed especially with the anti-immigrant sentiment that exists in the Texas legislature. I think it’s a great victory.”

Canales grew up in Jim Wells County about 60 miles north of the Rio Grande, not far from the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in Brooks County. The rugged ranchland last year surpassed the Arizona desert as the deadliest for undocumented border crossers in the United States, with 115 recovered bodies.

Still, many of the surrounding counties north of the border lack the financial assistance needed to deal with this growing death toll, Canales said.

“I’ve been personally involved in trying to find a solution to not only the financial burden that exists for border counties but finding a manner to properly bury and respect human life regardless of where they come from,” Canales said.

Brooks County remains the epicenter of migrant deaths in South Texas, where nearly 30 bodies have been recovered so far this year and hundreds are buried at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Falfurrias. Those numbers are down from 2013 and 2014, but the area remains a focus for authorities and immigrant advocates.

The South Texas Human Rights Center in Falfurrias has been documenting the deaths of these migrants as part of their fight for the rights of the living, the dead and the disappeared, on this migrant trail. Eddie Canales leads the local chapter and serves as board president of the national network.

“One of our goals is to find out how many undocumented or unidentified border crosses have perished in 18 border counties in the state of Texas dating back to the 1980’s.” Eddie Canales said. “DNA testing is required by law for all unidentified remains but is not always being carried out which makes it more difficult.”

Last month, he celebrated the passing of Senate Bill 1485 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, which will make death records of unidentified persons available to the public after one year. The previous waiting period was 25 years making it very hard to unite and bring closure to the countless families with missing loved ones, Eddie Canales said.

Legislators also approved $2.3 million in new funding for the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center and the Missing Persons and Human Identification Program to help expedite the process of creating DNA profiles of migrant remains.

It takes anywhere from six months to a year to complete the DNA profile and to enter the information into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, prolonging grief for families seeking closure, Eddie Canales said.

“I think that it’s unquestionable what role immigrants play in our daily lives in our economy,” he said. “Not only do we need to respect what they do for our country but we need to respect human life in death.”

Sunday 28 June 2015


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No closure likely for kin of over 4,000 missing in U'khand deluge as Centre, state abandon DNA project

Families of as many as 4,119 people who went missing in Uttarakhand deluge of 2013 may never get a sense of closure. Two years after the tragedy, an ambitious plan to match the DNA of all the decomposed dead bodies that were cremated onsite with samples collected from families of those missing, has been shelved—largely because of finances and logistics involved.

Both the Uttarakhand government and the Centre have termed the very exercise as "undesirable" now. This after close to Rs 1 crore were spent on collecting DNA samples from nearly 600 victim and 200 families and USA's FBI was roped in for analysis.

The state argues that families of all the missing have already been given death certificates overruling a seven-year cap on such declaration and so there is no need for DNA testing anymore. But the state seems to be focusing merely on the legal and not the emotional part of the tragedy.

Alwar-resident Vijendra Singh's wife Leela "died" during the 2013 Uttarakhand floods. However, since only a death certificate issued by the Uttarakhand government said so, he kept looking for her. On January 27, 2015, Singh found Leela alive, begging in the streets of Uttarkashi. He had then told the media that death certificate was not enough to convince him of his wife's death.

This is where DNA fingerprinting was thought to be essential as it would identify decomposed dead bodies and give families a sense of closure. The project was launched with much fanfare, with soundbites to the media from all and sundry in government, in the first few days of the tragedy itself.

NDRF and state police personnel collected samples from dead bodies and Centre for DNA Finger Printing and Diagnostics (CDFD) Hyderabad was roped in to build DNA profiles. As many as 574 samples were collected from dead bodies. CDFD managed to build over 450 profiles out these. But these were of no use until they could be matched with the families of all those missing.

This worked out to an impending collection of over 8,000 samples (the process requires two samples per family). The state government, however, could provide only 192 blood samples from families of victims. Based on this, CDFD, which imported technology from US with help from FBI, managed to generate 18 matches, thus giving a sense of closure to 18 families. This was in 2013. Since then, nothing has moved.

In fact, CDFD has had to struggle to recover even Rs 1 crore that it spent on generating 450 DNA profiles as Centre and state sparred over who would fund the project. The total cost of matching samples runs into Rs 5.15 crore according to CDFD. Sources say Uttarakhand government asked Centre for help which the latter refused saying it was the state's responsibility and no central scheme had provisions to fund such a project.

In a series of letters (in TOI's possession) written through 2014 to Uttarakhand chief secretary, National Disaster Management Authority and Department of Biotechnology (which funds CDFD), CDFD director J Gowrishankar has repeatedly pleaded for the state and Centre to take steps to finalize the process to give a sense of closure to families.

All he achieved was reimbursement from the state government of a little less that Rs 1 crore CDFD had spent on generating 450 profiles without any commitment on further action.

In a letter--its tone bordering on exasperation — written to the Centre on July 1, 2014, Gowrishankar writes, "The MHA (Home Ministry) letter of 26.6.2014 appears to suggest that the DNA-based identification of Uttarakhand victims may not be necessary any more at this stage. In CDFD's opinion discontinuing this exercise now would be most unwise and unwelcome ...Such a decision may have the effect of reducing the government's stature in the eyes not only of its citizens but also of the international community with respect to both human rights and S&T capabilities."

When TOI spoke to Uttarakhand Disaster Management secretary R Meenakshi Sundaram about the issue, he said, "These issues don't have any relevance today. The government of Uttarakhand with the permission of government of India has decided to treat all the missing persons as dead and has already issued death certificates to families of the victims. We needed to do DNA testing to prove the identity of the person. But since everybody has been issued a death certificate ...DNA fingerprinting is not required actually."

Sundaram insisted that this was not new and even during the tsunami of 2004 the government had done the same. He said that by issuing death certificates government had ensured families were able to claim insurance, compensation or use it for other such official purposes.

When reminded that a sense of closure to families was as important, he said, "I am not aware why things are stalled as I am new here. If it's a question of just Rs 4-5 crore, we can work something out."

CDFD director Gowrishankar, however, feels more than finances it's the logistics that the Centre and the state must focus on as samples have to be collected from thousands of families spread across the country. "If the entire process is completed we will be able to give a sense of closure to at least 450 people. We think it is still worth doing," Gowrishankar told TOI.

Home ministry's disaster management division, when contacted by TOI, maintained that the responsibility of funding as well as managing the logistics rested with the Uttarakhand government. It also feigned ignorance about the June 26, 2014 letter where it expressed that DNA fingerprinting was undesirable.

Sunday 28 June 2015


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Saturday, 27 June 2015

200 heatwave victims still unidentified, unclaimed; burial to complete today

Nearly 200 bodies remained unidentified and unclaimed at the Edhi morgue for days before over half of them were finally buried by the charity to make space for the bodies of other heatwave victims, said a representative of the country’s largest charity on Friday.

Among the dead included the old, the poor and those fasting, said Faisal Edhi, the representative of Edhi Foundation, while addressing a press conference along with Karachi chapter general secretary of the Pakistan Medical Association Dr Qazi Wasiq at Karachi Press Club. They suspected that most of the unclaimed bodies belonged to the people from other districts of Sindh and parts of Punjab province. Many of them could be beggars and drug addicts, Mr Edhi said.

Dr Wasiq said the deaths were unfortunate but everyone knew that it could happen not only because of the heatwave but due to multiple factors caused by negligence on the part of relevant authorities, local government, civil society and community.

He said the bodies which had not yet been claimed were being buried in the Edhi graveyard. Around 140 bodies had been buried so far, while all the remaining would be buried by Saturday, he added.

Saturday 27 June 2015


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The Disappeared: work to identify remains begins

Investigators who have uncovered remains in a search for one of the Disappeared say two bodies have been found in a single grave.

The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains (ICLVR) initially thought the remains found at a bog in the Republic of Ireland on Thursday were those of Joe Lynskey.

He was abducted, murdered and secretly buried by the IRA in 1972.

There was "surprise", an investigator said, when another body was found.

Two more of the Disappeared, Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee, were believed to have been buried close to the site that was being searched in Coghalstown, County Meath. The term the Disappeared refers to victims who were murdered and secretly buried by republicans during the Northern Ireland conflict.

Geoff Knupfer, the head of the ICLVR investigation team, said the "assumption" was that the first body discovered was that of Mr Lynskey.

"But as our archaeologists continued to excavate they found further remains in the grave," Mr Knupfer said.

"Because there are two people in the same grave, clearly there's a distinct possibility that what we have here are the remains of Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee. "But that remains to be seen.

"So, we're just saying that we have two victims in the same grave, which fits the profile of the Wright and McKee abduction and murder," he added.

Mr Knupfer also said that an adjoining plot of land had been searched "some years ago" for the bodies of the two men.

While the remains have not yet been identified, Mr McKee's sister Maria said she was feeling a mixture of emotions after being informed that one of the bodies could that of be her brother.

"It's a happy time, but it's also going to be a sad time," Ms McKee said.

"The sad thing about it is my mummy only missed it by three years. On her deathbed she did ask for Kevin.

"It's unreal, it's surreal to us."

Jon Hill, a senior investigator, said that due to the passage of time there could have been confusion among those who had provided information to the ICLVR on the where bodies of the Disappeared had been buried.

"It's so long ago that this happened and this ground where we're searching has changed dramatically from when these events occurred," he said.

Kevin McKee and Seamus Wright were both IRA members who were abducted and murdered by the organisation in 1972.

Mr Lynskey had been a former Cistercian monk from the Beechmount area of west Belfast, and later joined the IRA.

Once the remains have been recovered, they will be taken to Dublin for examination by the state pathologist.

Mr Hill said it would be "some weeks before the DNA can give some more clarity" as to whose bodies had been uncovered.

Maria Lynskey, a niece of Mr Lynskey, had travelled to the site after the initial discovery. null

Joe Lynskey was a former Cistercian monk from west Belfast.

Anne Morgan, the sister of another of the Disappeared, Seamus Ruddy, has been supporting the Lynskey family.

She said Ms Lynskey had "thought the whole day that it was her uncle" who had been found, but has "come to terms" with indications that now may not be the case.

Excavations had started at the bog in March in a search for Mr Lynskey.

Mr Knupford said that if it transpired that his body was not among those that had been found a search of the site would continue.

The ICLVR was set up by the British and Irish governments in 1999 to liaise with former paramilitaries to find the Disappeared.

Any information provided to the commission cannot be used in criminal proceedings.

Over the past 16 years, the ICLVR has searched for 16 people who were officially listed as the Disappeared.

The remains of 10 of the victims have been recovered and formally identified to date.

The most recent confirmed discovery was that of Brendan Megraw, whose remains were found in Oristown bog, also in County Meath, last October.

Saturday 27 June 2015


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Bus overturns, hit by truck on highway in China, killing 12

A bus overturned on a highway and was hit by an oncoming truck in eastern China, killing at least 12 people, officials said.

Another 24 people were injured Friday, including three in serious condition, the government of Wuhu city in Anhui province said. The crash was under investigation.

State broadcaster China Central Television said the bus overturned into the opposite lane and was hit by the cargo truck.

It wasn't clear how many people were aboard the two vehicles.

Photos circulating in the social media showed rescuers in a rain on a wet road with the bus resting on its side.

Road accidents in China are often caused by poor driving, inadequate maintenance, overloading, and dangerous mountain roads. The number of motorists also has been rapidly increasing, with the rise of the country's middle class.

Saturday 27 June 2015


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Authorities identify 9 people killed in Alaska plane crash

The remains of nine people killed Thursday in a plane crash in Southeast Alaska during a flightseeing tour were recovered Friday as federal officials continued their investigation into the cause of the wreck.

Alaska State Troopers late Friday released the names of the victims.

Troopers said the identifications were tentative pending positive ID by the State Medical Examiner’s Office. The victims' relatives were notified, troopers said.

Eight cruise ship passengers on a shore excursion were in the float-equipped de Havilland DHC-3 Otter when it crashed about 20 miles northeast of Ketchikan, against a rock face above remote Ella Lake in Misty Fjords National Monument.

The passengers had been aboard the Holland America Line cruise ship Westerdam, which docked Thursday in Ketchikan at the height of the city’s tourist season.

Promech Air, a Ketchikan-based charter and sightseeing service, operated the single-engine, turbine-powered plane. Promech sold shore excursions through Holland America, according to a statement from the Seattle-based cruise line.

‘Treacherous’ terrain

Brice Banning, National Transportation Safety Board investigator, described the site of the crash as "very treacherous” terrain.

Chris John, with the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad, confirmed about 5 p.m. that a team had tied down the plane and moved all remains to a Coast Guard boat waiting in a nearby bay.

"We're beginning to break down now and get everyone home," John said. "We haven't heard of any glitches. It just went really well."

John had anticipated earlier Friday that the terrain would pose challenges for the recovery team.

He said the plane rested at a steep angle in a “precarious” position about 800 feet above Ella Lake on the lake's west side. If the plane slipped, he said, it could fall about 100 feet before coming to a rest again.

Jerry Kiffer, president of the rescue squad, said helicopters dropped a crew into the area around 11 a.m. The crew hiked several hundred yards through slides and steep terrain, crossing a creek, before reaching an area above the crash site.

The team rappelled down the cliff, ran a cable through the plane and anchored it to the top of the cliff so the plane would not slip as the team went inside and brought out remains, Kiffer said.

Weather conditions on Thursday thwarted initial recovery efforts but improved significantly Friday, John said

Report of an overdue plane

Banning with NTSB said the cause of the crash has not been determined. He said he planned to fly to the scene Saturday to begin an investigation that will likely last several days. Afterward, responders will take the wreckage to Ketchikan to continue the investigation, he said.

The path the plane took before it crashed Thursday afternoon also remained unclear Friday. Clint Johnson, NTSB Alaska chief, said the plane was on its way back to Ketchikan when it crashed.

The plane had taken off after a stop in Rudyerd Bay in Misty Fjords, said a Promech Air representative.

Promech said the passengers were on the “Misty Fjords Wilderness Cruise & Flight,” a three-hour tour from downtown Ketchikan into Misty Fjords priced at $339 per person. It included a 30-minute “floatplane flight in a bush plane,” according to Promech Air’s website.

At 2:06 p.m. Thursday, troopers got a report that the plane was overdue. An emergency locator transmitter had activated in the vicinity of Misty Fjords, a vast wilderness marked by lakes, waterfalls, fjords and steep-sided glacial valleys.

The National Weather Service had reported scattered rain showers from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday at Ketchikan International Airport, with winds between 6 mph and 17 mph. Wind gusts hit 26 mph around noon.

Rob Murray, a pilot who flew with Promech Air between 2007 and 2013, called the flight loop into Misty Fjords “perfectly safe.” But he said gauging weather along the route could be difficult, unless there were cameras in the area or someone on the ground relaying information.

“You’ve got that big area in there where you’ve got to just fly it to see what the weather’s doing,” Murray said.

Friends and relatives phone in

On Friday, troopers said they “tentatively” identified the eight passengers and pilot killed in the crash using information from Promech Air, Holland America Line and photos provided to law enforcement.

Krill, the pilot, worked for Talkeetna Air Taxi last year, confirmed Paul Roderick, director of operations for the company.

As the crash gained national attention Thursday evening, Johnson said, friends and relatives of cruise ship passengers began phoning agencies involved in the response.

Callers grew concerned when they couldn’t reach the people they knew to be aboard the ship, but troopers spokesperson Megan Peters said part of that was likely due to the "lack of (cellular) connectivity in areas in Southeast Alaska.”

“It’s heartbreaking,” Peters said. “We’re doing everything we can to take care of (next of kin) notifications. While getting those names out will be a relief to so many people, it is still going to be tragic to the family and friends of those who died.”

Troopers said the medical examiner will make the official positive identifications.

Jason Grenn, spokesperson with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, said the remains of those killed in the crash will be sent to the Alaska State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage.

The medical examiner will first work to identify them based on fingerprints and then work through dental records, he said.

“As Alaskans, it’s like, we’ve all been in float planes. We see them all the time; they’re just part of our lives,” Grenn said. “Then people are out enjoying our state and something horrible happens.”

About 9,600 cruise ship tourists daily

Patti Mackey, Ketchikan Visitors Bureau president and chief executive officer, described Promech Air as a “highly regarded company” and flightseeing as a “very popular” attraction with tourists. A majority of the flights go to Misty Fjords, she said.

Tourist season in Ketchikan typically spans from early May to late September, Mackey said. Cruise ships will dock in Ketchikan nearly 500 times this year and roughly three to five ships arrive each day, she said.

On Thursday, cruise ships brought about 9,600 passengers to Ketchikan, and many spent hours in town, she said.

About Thursday’s crash, Mackey said, “Our community is just heartbroken over the loss of lives and it affects everyone.”

The Westerdam left Ketchikan around 7 p.m. Thursday on its way back to Seattle, according to the cruise line. A representative said a team on the ship was offering counseling services.

The seven-day Inside Passage cruise left Seattle last Saturday, the cruise line said.

‘Float planes, they’re the lifeblood of the communities'

Aside from tourism, Mackey said float planes are important to many residents in Southeast Alaska, where communities are not connected to the state’s road system.

“Float planes, they're the lifeblood of the communities down here,” Mackey said. “We all live on islands and they're called air taxis because they just do so much.”

The aircraft involved in the crash, a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter, is known as a workhorse in Alaska bush flying. Production of the plane ended in 1967, but in recent years, many Otters have undergone turbine engine conversions, increasing power and performance. They can carry up to 10 passengers.

“This airplane is perfectly suitable for tourist applications,” said Jane Dale, executive director of the Alaska Air Carriers Association. Many Otters, she said, were used in a military capacity and served in the Vietnam War.

In 2013, a de Havilland DHC-3 operated by Rediske Air Inc.crashed at the Soldotna airport, killing all 10 people onboard. An Anchorage Daily News report from that time called it the worst aviation accident in Alaska in at least 25 years. NTSB said the plane may have been overloaded and unbalanced.

Former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, was killed in a de Havilland Otter in 2010.

Promech Air said it was not flying Friday but planned to operate limited charter flights starting Saturday.

“Promech Air continues to grieve those who were lost in yesterday’s accident,” the company said in a statement. “Despite this difficult time, our employees are working around the clock supporting and assisting the loved ones of those affected.”

Saturday 27 June 2015


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Death toll from landslides, flashfloods climbs to 15

The death toll from landslides and flashfloods in Cox's Bazar and Bandarban districts has risen to 15.

Five people went missing in Chakaria flashflood early Saturday, our Cox's Bazar correspondent reports.

Of them, four bodies were recovered in the morning.

Chakaria police station OC Subhash Chandra Roy said the two bodies were recovered on Saturday morning.

The bodies were recovered from Kiajor Beel under Gorjania union in Ramu upazila.

Ramu UNO Masud Hossain confirmed the Dhaka Tribune about the deaths.

Two people were killed in separate incidents of landslide at Ramu upazila of Cox’s Bazar on Friday.

Besides, three people drowned in floodwater in the upazila.

Meanwhile, two women drowned as a boat carrying them capsized in a canal due to strong current at Gojania.

In Teknaf upazila, a woman and her minor daughter were killed as a tree collapsed on them in Saint Martin’s Island around noon.

Jahangir Alam, district relief and rehabilitation officer of department of disaster management and relief of Cox’s Bazar, confirmed reporters about the deaths.

In Bandarban, two siblings were killed and their parents injured in a landslide at Banarupa Para in Bandarban municipality area early Friday.

OC of Bandarban Sadar police station Imtiaz Ahmed said the incident took place in the area when a portion of a hill fell and crushed their house at the foot of the hill around 3am.

Firefighters and local people recovered the bodies and rescued two others after frantic efforts. The injured were taken to Sadar Hospital.

Saturday 27 June 2015


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Indian monsoon rains kill 81 and leave over 9,000 stranded

Dozens of people have been killed as monsoon rains engulfed wide areas of Gujarat state in western India and thousands of others have been forced to leave their flooded homes.

Around 9,000 people were evacuated to higher ground in rural areas that have been worst hit by the rains. At least 81 people have been killed, many of them swept away by flood waters and mudslides, or buried in collapsed houses, according to Ridhi Butt, an official with the National Disaster Response Force.

More than 1,000 Hindu pilgrims were also stranded on the mountain paths leading to the Hindu shrines of Kedarnath and Badrinath in northern Uttrakhand state, because of the rains. Workers are clearing roads to restore the pilgrimage route, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

The monsoon has covered nearly the entire country, with the rains arriving days ahead of schedule. As well as Gujarat, parts of Assam state in the north-east were flooded and a swollen river breached its banks in the northern Jammu-Kashmir state.

India’s financial capital of Mumbai was also badly hit last week when torrential showers closed public transport and led to a breakdown in public services.

The rains follow a heatwave last month that killed more than 2,000 people across the country, with India’s Meteorological Department saying that it expected a drier July than average.

Neighbouring Pakistan has had a heatwave of its own to contend with in recent days, and Anwar Kazmi, of the Edhi Foundation, a private charity that runs a network of ambulances and mortuaries claimed that the death toll there had reached more than 1,150 around the around the port city of Karachi.

Saturday 27 June 2015


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Thursday, 25 June 2015

Monsoon onset kills 45 across Gujarat

At least 45 people died, 36 in Amreli district alone, as Gujarat experienced the fiercest entry of monsoon in recent years, on Wednesday.

Amreli district was the worst hit by the rain fury as 13 people died when two houses collapsed in Nani Vaghaniya village near Bagasara town. "Of the 13, seven are females that include few young girls," said Pinakin Parmar, deputy superintendent of police, Amreli.

According to state flood control room, three persons died in Bhavnagar, two in Gondal and three in Surat. Official report states that 28 persons have died in rain-related incidents from June 1 to June 23.

Residents of Bagasara, famed for its gold-plated imitation jewellery, remained on the edge as the town was pounded by 636 mm rainfall in just 24 hours. National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) team rescued 85 stranded people in the town.

Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters air lifted 44 people after their bus got stuck in flood water on a state highway near Amreli. This was the first time that an operation to airlift people was conducted in the first spell of monsoon. Rescue teams also found bodies of two persons, who were missing along with five others from the bus.

Thousands of people have also been stranded as heavy rains triggered flash floods in rivers in Amreli, Rajkot, Bhavnagar and Gir-Somnath districts. In Rajkot district, 4,121 people were shifted to safer locations from low-lying areas.

The death toll is only likely to increase as many people, who were swept away in flash floods, are reported to be missing.

Torrential rains also paralyzed south Gujarat that witnessed heavy rains accompanied by winds gusting up to 80 km/per hour. While a 42-year-old man was electrocuted in Kosambda village, a boy died after falling into a manhole near Althan garden in Surat city. In Valsad's Narwad village, a man died in house collapse while another man died in Uchhal after a tree fell on him.

Twelve relief centres were opened in Surat as nearly 1,000 people living near two creeks were evacuated. Adding to the rain worries, electricity was snapped in large number of villages of south Gujarat.

Amid reports of damage, however, there was some good news too in Saurashtra. The dams that had hit rock bottom were brimming, much to the relief of water-starved people. In fact, Bhadar dam, the region's biggest, is overflowing in just nine days of monsoon onset.

Thursday 25 June 2015


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Death toll rises to 13 in Henan apartment building fire

At least 13 people were killed and four others injured when a fire razed through a seven-storey building in central China's Henan province today.

The fire erupted on the ground floor of the building in downtown Zhengzhou, Henan's capital.

Reports said the deaths occurred on the top floor of the building, meaning the victims likely died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The building contains to some 30 to 40 households, witnesses said.

The fire broke out in an electricity meter box, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The four injured were being treated for burn injuries at an area hospital.

The fire, the cause of which remains unknown, was put out this morning.

Apartments in China are not properly maintained, and improper wiring and bad ventilation are often blamed for major accidents.

The fire broke out on the ground floor of a seven-storey apartment building in downtown Zhengzhou, Henan's capital. It started in an electricity meter box.

Thursday 25 June 2015


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Toll in Mexico nursing home fire rises to 17, arson possible

A fire that killed 17 residents at a retirement home for poor people on Mexico's northern border may have been intentionally set, the city's mayor said Wednesday.

Mexicali Mayor Jaime Diaz Ochoa said in a statement that another body had been found in the charred wreckage of the wood-structure, tin-roofed nursing home's dormitory area.

Diaz Ochoa said the area where the fire started is suspicious because there appeared to be no natural source, like electrical wires or fuel, for the origin of the fire. Other officials said it started near a perimeter fence.

"There is the assumption that it could have been intentional," Diaz Ochoa told the Televisa network Wednesday. "In the area where it started there are ... boxes, which by themselves could not have started the fire."

Diaz Ochoa also said he had been told there was a dispute between the administrators of the facility.

"We have been told by the representatives that there was a dispute for control of the nonprofit," he said.

The facility was run by the nonprofit Cultural Society for the Promotion of Social Welfare and housed poor, abandoned or formerly homeless elderly people.

Telephone numbers listed for the home rang unanswered or were disconnected.

In its government registration page, the group lists one of its functions as "giving humanitarian assistance to low-income elderly people in need, including food, shelter, clothing and medical care."

Diaz Ochoa said state prosecutors were investigating the fire. Some of the bodies were badly charred and are still awaiting identification.

One resident was still in very serious condition, with burns. Three others injured in the fire were recovering and may be released from a hospital.

Thursday 25 June 2015


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Almost 1,200 people are missing in Donbas

Almost 1,200 Ukrainians are listed as missing in the military conflict zone in Donbas, Iryna Heraschenko, a representative of Ukraine in the humanitarian subgroup of the Trilateral Contact Group and a member of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, has said.

"We have almost 1,200 Ukrainians on this horrible 'missing persons' list," Heraschenko said on Facebook on Tuesday.

Heraschenko said International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) officials have offered expert assistance in the search for and identification of the missing people.

She also said the Ukrainian authorities had also suggested in the negotiations in Minsk on Tuesday that the ICRC should monitor the situation with the detainees and their living conditions, including in Russia. "We again emphasized that our colleague Nadia Savchenko has been illegally held in a Russian prison for a year now," the Ukrainian official said.

Additionally, the Ukrainian officials raised in the meeting of the subgroup the issue of the Russian humanitarian convoys to Donbas, which Kyiv finds to be illegal.

Thursday 25 June 2015


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Typhoon Kujira leaves 7 dead, 4 missing in Vietnam

Typhoon Kujira, which made landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday noon, has left seven dead and four others missing as of Thursday morning.

According to meteorological agency in Vietnam's northern Son La province, some 200 km west of capital Hanoi, the flood after typhoon Kujira has swept away 23 houses.

Rainfall from Wednesday night to Thursday morning hit 219 mm. Heavy downpours in a short period of time have flooded many districts in Son La province. Flash flood occurred in some areas, local VNExpress online newspaper reported on Thursday.

Making landfall in Vietnam's northeastern Quang Ninh province ( some 120 km east of capital Hanoi) and Hai Phong city (some 90 km east of capital Hanoi) on Wednesday noon, typhoon Kujira has brought about no casualties in these two localities.

However, the typhoon has caused heavy rain in all the country's northern region.

Kujira is the first typhoon hitting Vietnam so far in 2015.

Many districts in Son La were submerged in water.

As many as 23 houses were also wiped out by flood waters. The floods also eroded a number of roads, causing traffic congestion.

Typhoon Kujira has weakened into a depression, but heavy rains will still occur in northeastern provinces until Thursday, according to the National Hydro-meteorological Forecast Center.

Thursday 25 June



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