Thursday, 31 December 2015

Floods, earthquakes, wildfires and heat waves: the worst natural disasters of 2015

Floods, cyclones, wildfires, heat waves, earthquakes and landslides made 2015 a devastating year for a lot of people around the world. We take a look at some of the worst natural disasters of the past year.

January 2015

Flooding in southeastern Africa

Unusually heavy rains hit Malawi and caused widespread flooding, leaving 200 people dead or missing and 120,000 forced from their homes, according to UNICEF. The aid agency said it was "a race against time" to reach displaced communities, as stagnant water and poor sanitation threatened to kill children in one of the poorest countries in southern Africa. In neighbouring Mozambique, the rains caused extreme flooding of river basins and cut off communities. Twenty-five people were reportedly killed in that country.

March 2015

Cyclone Pam rips through Vanuatu

Winds of 270 kilometres an hour tore through the 65-island South Pacific archipelago, home to about 267,000 people. One of the heavily damaged areas was the capital, Port Vila, where 47,000 people live. The destruction was even worse on the outer island of Tanna, where the Australian military estimated about 80 per cent of the buildings were flattened, and the hospital and airport were damaged. To complicate matters, the island's remote location made it difficult for rescuers to get through. Throughout Vanuatu, an estimated 11 people were killed and thousands were left homeless.

April 2015

Deadly earthquake devastates Nepal

On April 25, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake left more than 8,000 people dead in Nepal and turned much of the country, including the capital, Kathmandu, into a disaster zone. The earthquake triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest that killed 19 climbers. About three weeks later, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal again, killing dozens more people, injuring hundreds and terrifying the country's citizens just as they were trying to rebuild from the first disaster.

May/June 2015

Heat waves kill thousands in India and Pakistan

By the end of May, about 2,200 people in India were dead from a raging heat wave that began in April. Temperatures went up to 47 C. Most of the people killed were in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana states in the southern part of the country.

In June, the worst heat wave in at least a decade hit southern Pakistan, particularly the port city of Karachi. More than 830 people died as temperatures reached as high as 45 C. Karachi's inefficient power grid and shortage of potable water were blamed for worsening the situation. On the worst days, people in the city of 20 million tried to get water from broken pipes.

July 2015

Flash floods hit Pakistan

Triggered by monsoon rains, flash floods killed more than 100 people in various parts of Pakistan and left tens of thousands homeless, according to the country's National Disaster Management Authority. More than 2,000 villages were flooded.

Pakistan Flooding

Almost 3,000 homes collapsed or suffered damage. In the northwestern city of Chitral, homes, mosques, hotels, bridges and a power station were destroyed.

Wildfires force largest evacuation in Saskatchewan's history

Hot weather, very dry conditions and lightning strikes contributed to hundreds of wildfires in western Canada during the summer of 2015. In Saskatchewan, more than 13,000 people were forced from their homes in the largest evacuation effort in the province's history. The Canadian military was dispatched to help in the hard-hit La Ronge area, about 380 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

The increased wildfire activity in 2015 — and the ballooning firefighting costs — prompted Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and B.C. Premier Christy Clark to call for a national forest fire plan by next year.

September 2015

California wildfires

California suffered one of its worst forest fire seasons on record in 2015 as wildfires raged in northern parts of the state. One fire, north of San Francisco, was the fourth-worst blaze in California's history, with three people killed and more than 1,000 homes destroyed.

A separate fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills killed two people and ruined more than 500 homes. A volunteer firefighter lost his own home while out battling blazes. Thousands of people were evacuated from dozens of communities. According to the Cal Fire website, there were more than 6,200 wildfires throughout the state in 2015, burning about 125,000 hectares of land. Compare that to 2014, when Cal Fire documented about 4,200 wildfires that burned about 77,000 hectares.

Chile earthquake

On Sept. 16, an 8.3 magnitude earthquake killed 11 people in central Chile and triggered tsunami warnings as far away as Hawaii and California. More than one million people fled their homes and waves up to 4.5 metres high slammed into Chile's northern port city of Coquimbo, washing large fishing boats up onto the streets.

Still, many people who remember the devastating 8.8. magnitude quake of 2010, which caused a massive tsunami and killed more than 500 people, were relieved the death toll and destruction wasn't worse. When September's earthquake struck, the Chilean government ordered evacuations from coastal areas and said it had learned from previous disasters.

Japan floods

Heavy rain after Tropical Storm Etau pummelled Japan in September and triggered huge floods, forcing thousands of people from their homes. When the Kinugawa River broke through a flood berm in Joso near Tokyo, it washed away entire houses and left hundreds of people stranded. Many waited on rooftops to be rescued.

October 2015

U.S. floods

U.S. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency after Hurricane Joaquin-related storms slammed South Carolina with floods. Streets and roads turned into rivers, leaving many people trapped in their cars. A dozen people died of weather-related causes in South Carolina and neighbouring North Carolina.

One woman died when her SUV was swept away by floodwaters; another man drowned after he drove around a barricade. A transportation worker was also among those killed. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said 550 roads and bridges had to be closed across the state.

November 2015

Deadly Australian wildfires

Four people were killed and hundreds of homes were evacuated as wildfires raged across southwest Australia in November. Fierce winds and a heat wave were blamed for making the fires worse as firefighters tried to contain them. November is summertime in the southern hemisphere, and wildfires are common across much of Australia during the season.

Burma landslide

On Nov. 21, a landslide in Burma, also known as Myanmar, killed more than 100 people when a 60-metre high mountain of dirt discarded by mining companies collapsed. The disaster happened in the mining community of Hpakant in the jade-rich northern part of the country.

At first, officials said the dead were mostly men picking through the mining waste looking for jade to sell — a common occurrence in the extremely poor town. Later, they said the landslide happened in the middle of the night and buried more than 70 makeshift huts where the miners slept.

December 2015

Chennai floods after heaviest rainfall in 100 years

Massive floods in India drove thousands of people from their homes in December after the heaviest rainfall in more than a century hit the state of Tamil Nadu. More than 250 people died — some by electrocution before authorities turned power off in some areas.

Vast swaths of Chennai — India's fourth-largest city — were under up to three metres of water. Homes and cars were submerged, and people escaped their homes using ladders or jumping out windows onto makeshift rafts.

Thursday 31 December 2015

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Monday, 28 December 2015

Search ends for missing in Myanmar jade mine landslide

Rescuers in northern Myanmar called off their search for workers feared buried in a jade mine landslide, police said on Sunday (Dec 27), with no missing people or bodies recovered.

A wall of rocks, mud and debris careered down a hillside on Friday afternoon at Hpakant in Kachin state, the war-torn area that is the epicentre of Myanmar's secretive multi-billion-dollar jade industry.

Locals reported as many as 50 people might have been buried. But officials played down those numbers, saying only three men had been reported missing.

More than 100 people were killed in the same area in a landslide last month, highlighting the huge risks people take to fuel global - and particularly Chinese - demand for jade.

A police officer in Hpakant said rescue efforts were called off because the risk of further landslides was too great.

"The rescue process was stopped this afternoon because there were possible dangers and cracks appearing on the debris dump site," the officer, who asked not to be named, told AFP. "We haven't found anybody and we don't know how many casualties there were," he added.

Another police officer had earlier told AFP three people were thought to be missing. The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar Sunday reported the same figures.

The paper quoted Tin Swe Myint, head of the Hpakant Township Administration Office, as saying that the landslide took place after most workers had finished work and unlike last month's tragedy it had not engulfed a row of shanty houses.


However, a second police officer warned it was difficult to say for sure how many have been caught up in the landslide. "We have no idea how many might be buried there," local officer Thet Zaw Oo told AFP by phone.

Myanmar's shadowy and poorly regulated jade trade is enormously dangerous, with landslides a frighteningly common hazard.

Those killed are mainly itinerant workers who scratch a living picking through the piles of waste left by large-scale industrial mining firms in hopes of stumbling across an overlooked hunk of jade that will deliver them from poverty.

A civilian rescuer who asked not to be named said the landslide site was far from Hpakant town and had no phone coverage.

"There are many cracks (in the ground), it's very dangerous for rescue teams to drive diggers there," he said, adding that locals still believed dozens could be buried.

Myanmar is the source of virtually all of the world's finest jadeite, a near-translucent green stone that is enormously prized in neighbouring China, where it is known as the "stone of heaven".

Tuesday 28 December 2015

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SAR mission enters final stage as death toll reaches 66

A week after the KM Marina Baru ship sank in Bone Bay, National Search and Rescue Team (Basarnas) has announced a decision to extend its search for the ill-fated ship passengers until Tuesday, in hopes of locating the 12 who remain missing.

“Hopefully, with this search extension, the 12 missing passengers will be located and returned to their respective families,” Basarnas chief Air Marshal Bambang Soelistyo told reporters in Makassar over the weekend.

The 125-gross-ton passenger ship, carrying 118 people including crew members, departed Tobaku Port in North Kolaka regency, Southeast Sulawesi, at around 11 a.m. on Dec. 19, to sail through Bone Bay to Siwa Port in Wajo regency, South Sulawesi.

The ship was expected to arrive in Siwa at 4 p.m. on the same day, but it lost contact with operators and failed to reach its destination.

As of Sunday, the SAR team had recovered a total of 106 passengers from various locations in Bone Bay. Forty of those rescued survived the incident while the other 66 had been found dead.

Three dead bodies were found on Saturday in the waters around Tanjung Tobaku, Lasusua, North Kolaka and have been evacuated to the regency’s Djafar Harun General Hospital for identification.

Despite the SAR search extension, Bambang said that the number of personnel would be reduced. The team, he added, would no longer carry out an air search, as this had previously been supported by an Indonesian Military (TNI) helicopter.

Local authorities have shut down the evacuation and victim identification post in Siwa but continue to monitor the SAR mission from the North Kolaka capital of Lasusua.

As many as 20 of the deceased have been handed over to the South Sulawesi Police Disaster Victims Identification (DVI) unit, while the other 46 deceased were handed to its counterpart at the Southeast Sulawesi Police.

Earlier, South Sulawesi Police medical and health affairs head Sr. Comr. Raden Harjuno said that his side had managed to identify the 20 bodies kept at the Siwa Regency Hospital in Wajo and the Bhayangkara Police Hospital in the provincial capital of Makassar.

Southeast Sulawesi Police spokesperson Adj. Sr. Comr. Sunarto, meanwhile, said that his DVI unit had identified 36 of the 46 victims hand had handed over their bodies to their respective family members.

“We will work hard to complete the identification process as soon as possible,” he said on Sunday.

Both the police and the National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) have said that they would investigate the accident, the country’s deadliest maritime incident this year.

They, however, remain uncertain with regard to the province in which the boat actually sank.

Last week, state-run insurance company Jasa Raharja said it would cover funeral costs and provide compensation for the victims’ next of kin. For each victim, there will be a provision of Rp 25 million (US$1,830) in compensation and Rp 2 million for funeral costs.

Monday 28 December 2015

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Sunday, 27 December 2015

After 11 years, memories of Aceh tsunami live on

Aceh residents gathered on Saturday in a number of venues across the province to send their prayers to the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated the region on that same date, 11 years ago.

At Banda Aceh’s Ulee Lheue mass grave, where more than 14,000 victims of the disaster were buried, local residents alternately visited the area throughout Saturday, to not only pray for the victims, but also to reflect on their stories as survivors.

Many of them also could not hold back their tears as they observed displayed at the grave’s entrance a number of photographs depicting the situation of the region shortly after being hit by the tsunami.

“Time passes quickly, but the sad memory of 11 years ago will always stay with us,” Yenni, a resident of Lambaro Skep subdistrict, told The Jakarta Post.

Despite the atrocious aftermath of the tsunami, Yenni, who lost several family members in the disaster, said she always encouraged herself to move on.

“It is impossible for us to keep mourning all the time, as God still gives us chances to survive,” she said.

Ulee Lheue and Siron Aceh Besar are the two biggest mass graves that the provincial administration dug for tsunami victims. Hundreds of smaller mass graves were also established in other parts of the region.

Like in previous years, Yussi, a Meulaboh resident, used the commemoration of the tsunami tragedy this year to visit several major mass graves in Banda Aceh, as she has no idea about her parents’ whereabouts after the tsunami.

“I don’t know where their bodies were buried. I’m also still hoping that they’re still alive,” she said.

The tremor that measured 8.9 on the Richter scale and the resulting tsunami waves that hit Aceh on Dec. 26, 2004 killed more than 120,000 people and displaced more than 800,000 others.

The disaster, however, also helped end a three-decade separatist conflict that had killed 15,000 people, when the commanders of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) agreed in mid-2005 to a peace accord signed in Helsinki, Finland.

Last year, a massive government-sponsored event to commemmorate the 10th anniversary of the disaster was held in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, with representatives from dozens of donor countries and international organizations attending the event.

This year, apart from smaller events held independently by local residents in mass graveyards or mosques, the Aceh Culture and Tourism Agency also organized a series of additional events, including a photo exhibition, a seminar and an arts performance, to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the tragedy.

The main commemoration, attended by, among others, Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah and Banda Aceh Mayor Illiza Saaduddin Djamal, meanwhile, took place in a mosque in Lampuuk subdistrict. The mosquewas among the few buildings that survived the tsunami.

“In every tsunami commemoration, we are trying to spread certain messages to the public, including self-reflection, appreciation, [disaster] mitigation and [tourism] promotion,” agency head Reza Pahlevi said.

27 December 2015

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Dozens feared dead as another landslide hits Myanmar's jade mines

Dozens of people are feared missing or dead after a landslide hit a jade mining region in Myanmar’s northern Kachin state.

Officials say a search for survivors and bodies is continuing after Friday’s accident in the area around Hpakant.

Last month, 114 people were killed in the same area after a massive landslide.

Jade mining produces piles of waste rock. Migrant workers climb the heaps to search for the gem stone.

Local official Tint Swe Myint told the Bangkok Post that five bodies had already been found.

“According to witnesses, about 50 people are still missing,” he said.

Sai Lon, who works at a mining company in the area, said: “We heard about 50 people were buried in the collapsed dump and four or five bodies were found this morning.”

Local police could not offer any details about the number of casualties.

“We haven’t heard anything from the rescue team yet,” said a duty officer at the Hpakant township police station who declined to give his name to news agency Reuters.

In November’s disaster, many of those killed were people who made their living scavenging on or near the waste dumps left by large-scale industrial mining firms.

The value of jade produced in 2014 alone was £21bn - the equivalent of nearly half of Myanmar’s (Burma’s) GDP - yet hardly any of the money reaches ordinary people.

Deaths in the jade mines, where small-time prospectors and big companies vie for the precious stone, underscore the sector’s lax safety rules and lack of accountability.

Although the United States eased most of the ban on imports from the country when a quasi-civilian government took power in 2011 after five decades of military dictatorship, an American ban on Myanmar jade remains in place over concerns that jade mining benefits military figures and fuels corruption and human rights abuses.

Sunday 27 December 2015

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Nnewi disaster: Relatives lament, search bushes for bodies of missing persons

Following the gas explosion that rocked Nnewi industrial town which plunged residents into mourning when scores of persons were reportedly burnt to ashes, relatives of the victims are now combing bushes near the gas plant for corpses of missing family members.

In Nigeria a huge explosion rocked the district of Nnewi in Anambra State on Christmas eve, when a butane gas depot caught fire leaving more than 100 people dead and several injured. Most of the workers and customers at the fuel depot were burnt beyond recognition.

“My heart and prayers go out to these grieving families at this difficult and painful moment,” said Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari.

Eye witnesses say that the fire in Nigeria raged for several hours before being extinguished. Many customers had gone to the depot to purchase butane gas bottles in preparation for the Christmas festivities.

The dead and injured were taken to the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital in Nnewi.

“The fire burned beyond recognition all the workers who were inside that depot at that time and also all the customers inside that depot,” Chukwuemerie Uduchukwu, who went to the scene.

The ferocity of the blast in Nigeria also damaged houses in the surrounding area. A witness told the Vanguard newspaper that the blast was triggered when a truck began discharging cooking gas without waiting for the mandatory cooling time.

Witnesses described a huge fire with acrid black smoke hanging over the scene of the disaster in Nigeria.

Reports from the scene in Nigeria say that all the customers who went to the gas plant to get a refill were allegedly burnt to death, while some of the victims who were in the neighbourhood and passers-by also got caught in the inferno.

Hon Azubogu said that the accident has made it incumbent on the government to enforce safety standards, stressing the need for regulatory bodies like the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR and similar agencies to ensure that environmental impact assessments are properly carried out before giving licenses to people to set up filling stations.

Some of the relatives of the victims, while speaking with newsmen at the scene, said they decided to search the bushes because they got information that many people ran into it during the explosion.

A staff of Chikason Group, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said workers of the organisation recently concluded a two-week fasting and prayer session after a prophet allegedly warned the Chairman of the group of an impending doom, adding that the unnamed prophet did not specify which of the factories in the group would be affected, a situation that made many members of staff to participate in the prayer sessions.

Last time two of his fully-loaded trucks just disappeared. The vehicles were carrying items running into millions of naira. That one is yet to be resolved and now this fire disaster,” he said

Sunday 27 December 2015

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