Sunday, 15 March 2015

Strong currents hamper search for Myanmar ferry victims

Strong currents on Sunday hampered efforts to retrieve the bodies of victims of a ferry accident which killed at least 34 people off western Myanmar, as hopes dimmed for the missing.

The "Aung Takon 3" sank late Friday after leaving the town of Kyaukphyu on its way to Sittwe in western Rakhine state.

Updating the toll, police said 34 people died in the sinking with a dozen more listed as missing.

The ship was officially carrying 214 passengers and crew.

But locals have said they fear many more unregistered ticket holders may have been on board, a common practice on the impoverished nation’s often overcrowded ferry network.

"We have hundreds of people helping with the rescue, but there’s a strong current, it’s hard to carry out rescue work," Thein Naing, a senior police official in Kyaukphyu, told AFP.

"We have 34 dead people so far... we will continue the search until we have found everyone."

But expectations of finding survivors have diminished nearly two days after the boat went down.

Many Myanmar citizens living along the nation’s lengthy coastline and flood-prone river systems rely on poorly-maintained ferries for transportation.

The area where the "Aung Takon 3" capsized is notorious for its treacherous waters.

In recent years Rakhine state has also been the departure point for thousands of desperate Muslim Rohingya who crowd onto small and dangerously overcrowded boats to escape persecution, often aiming for Thailand and Malaysia.

But many of the barely seaworthy boats never reach their destinations.

Sunday 15 March 2015

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Uganda: Govt praised for quick fire victims' DNA results

Government has been praised for expeditiously releasing the DNA results for the six bodies of the workers that perished in the fire that gutted Crest Foam mattress factory on Monday morning.

The results were released on Saturday at the Government Analytical Laboratory(GAL) in the city suburb of Wandegeya. Property worth sh6b is believed to have been destroyed.

The director of GAL Kefa Kuchana Kateu, handed over the Certificate of Analysis containing the results.

They were received by the officer in charge of Kira Road Police ASP George William Kanzira.

A relative of one of the victims praised government, saying they feared it would be a two-week long wait.

"Government has done something that is very good. We initially thought we were going to wait for two weeks but even in our moment of grief, we are overjoyed that we shall be able to put the deceased to rest sooner rather than later,"Nyawora said.

Kateu said the DNA analysis from the bodies marked one to six, were profiled from 10 relatives of the deceased. He said there was no mismatch.

"These victims were numbered from the scene. All the results matched. We profiled mothers and fathers, then brothers and children," Kateu said.

The certificate of analysis does not indicate the names of the deceased. It only indicates the identification number from the scene, matched with the names of the relative profiled for DNA.

Kateu explained the expeditious conclusion of the analysis, saying government has a framework contract with suppliers of the reagents used for DNA. The relatives are Jennifer Atieno, Manziliana Alweny, Christine Achieng, Ruth Nali,Joshua Onyango, and Jennifer Nantumbwe.

Preliminary investigations indicate the fire started from welding works at the factory. On Saturday, the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson Patrick Onyango, said investigations were ongoing.

Kanzira said a copy of the results would be given to management at the city mortuary, Mulago Hospital, to enable the relatives identify and take the deceased for burial.

Sunday 15 March 2015

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Brazil bus crash: at least 40 dead after plunge off cliff

At least 49 people were killed Saturday, March 14, when a tour bus plunged hundreds of meters into a densely wooded ravine in southern Brazil, authorities said.

Among the dead were 8 children and 24 women, regional government spokeswoman Ana Paula Keller told Agence France-Presse.

The toll had initially been put at about 30 but the number rose throughout the night as rescuers continued to find bodies at the difficult-to-access crash site in Santa Catarina state, and other victims succumbed to their injuries at a nearby hospital.

The bus plunged 400 meters (1,300 feet) into a ravine and ended up on its side, snarled in thick vegetation. Rescuers struggled to account for everyone in the failing light and difficult terrain.

Fifty people were supposed to be on the bus, but authorities believed the number of passengers was higher than that.

Ten people were in the hospital. Their conditions were not immediately known.

The crash site was near a lookout point in the Dona Francisca mountains, a popular stop for tourists. The bus was operated by a tour firm and was traveling a route of about 300 kilometers (185 miles) between Uniao da Vitoria and Guaratuba, on the Santa Catarina coast.

Witnesses told local press that the driver lost control on the curvy stretch of highway, but the cause was still under investigation.

"There are people out there, on the hill, in the bus, trapped in the wreckage. But the chances of finding someone alive are pretty slim," state police Colonel Nelson Coelho said in a statement.

Several drivers stopped on the roadside to try to help victims as they waited for emergency services to arrive.

Accidents on this winding road are common. The O Estado newspaper said 66 people had been killed on the highway in the last five years.

In 2007, 27 people were killed in a single accident and another crash in 1999 left 35 dead.

Some 43,000 Brazilians are killed in road accidents annually.

And from 2002-2012, the traffic accident rate surged by over 24 percent.

With the economy growing and the population topping 200 million, an estimated 10,000 new cars are added to the roads every day.

One of the country's last major accidents was in October 2014, when a truck collided with a bus carrying high school students in Sao Paulo, killing 10 and injuring dozens more.

Despite nearly a decade of sustained economic growth that only slowed in recent years, the country has done little to improve or expand its creaky infrastructure.

The country averages more than 18 highway deaths per 100,000 people per year, compared with only about 10 in high-income countries, according to a report by the Inter-American Development Bank.

The tolls in nearby Argentina, Colombia and Chile average about 13.

Sunday 15 March 2015

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13 killed, 25 injured in Nagaland bus accident

In a tragic road accident, 13 persons died while many were injured when a bus carrying more than 25 passengers fell into a narrow steep gorge at Phek town, Nagaland.

The incident occurred today at around 1.30 pm in between New and Old Phek, Nagaland.

The bus which was returning after the wedding ceremony of a Jessami village girl at Phek fell into a narrow steep gorge killing 13 persons including six women and seven men on the spot while more than four persons were in critical conditions.

The accident victims were rushed to Phek hospital for immediate treatment.

The passengers were travelling in a NST Mini bus from Phek.

Jessami CYS Chairman Khwezobe, Church chowkidar W Ayewebso, two spinsters and two bachelors have been identified from among the 13 victims.

The bodies would be brought back to Jessami village early tomorrow morning where a mass funeral would be organised at Jessami public ground.

Deputy Speaker and MLA from Chingai Assembly Constituency Preshow Shimray has deeply condoled the demise of 13 persons in the road accident.

Conveying his condolence to the breaved family members, the Deputy Speaker in a statement issued to the press late in the evening today prayed for the eternal rest of the departed souls.

Shimray also prayed for the injured persons and hoped for their fast recovery.

The Government and the district administration too have been apprised of the matter and urged to act fast so the bodies may be brought to Jessami village in good time.

Likewise the injured persons too may be taken to Imphal for medical treatment.

The Deputy Speaker also appealed to the Government to extend all possible assistance to the bereaved family members as well as to the injured persons.

Sunday 15 March 2015

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Huge Pacific cyclone devastates Vanuatu, at least eight dead

One of the Pacific Ocean's most powerful ever storms devastated the island nation of Vanuatu on Saturday, tearing off roofs, uprooting trees and killing at least eight people with the toll set to rise, aid officials said.

The United Nations was preparing a major relief operation and Australia said it was ready to offer its neighbor whatever help it could.

With winds up to 340 kph (210 mph), Cyclone Pam left Vanuatu cut off, with little power, poor communications and a looming threat of hunger and thirst.

Unconfirmed reports said the number of dead could run into dozens but aid workers said it would be days or weeks before the full impact was known.

"It felt like the world was going to end," Alice Clements, a spokeswoman for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), said from Vanuatu.

"It's like a bomb has gone off in the center of the town. There is no power. There is no water."

Tom Skirrow, country director for the Save the Children aid group, told Reuters that Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office had confirmed eight dead and 20 injured. He said he expected those figures to rise substantially.

Aid workers in Papua New Guinea said at least one person had been killed by the storm there.

Satellite photographs showed the storm covering virtually all of Vanuatu, a sprawling country of 83 islands and 260,000 people 2,000 km (1,250 miles) northeast of the Australian city of Brisbane.

The president of Vanuatu, Baldwin Lonsdale, told a disaster risk conference in Japan he had no confirmed report of the impact of the storm but he appealed to the world to "give a lending hand".

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Canberra would be willing to offer Vanuatu whatever help it could.

Formerly known as the New Hebrides, Vanuatu was jointly ruled by France and Britain until independence in 1980. It is among the world's poorest countries and highly prone to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis and storms.

Witnesses described sea surges of up to eight meters (26 feet) and flooding throughout the capital, Port Vila, after the category 5 cyclone hit late on Friday.

Aid officials said the storm could be unprecedented in the island's history and one of the worst natural disasters the Pacific region has ever experienced.

They said the storm was comparable in strength to Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in 2013 and killed more than 6,000 people.


Chloe Morrison a spokeswoman for the World Vision aid group said the storm had been terrifying.

"Trees are across the roads. Some of them are piled up so you can barely see over them,” she said. “There are reports that there have been casualties across all of the islands.

"This is going to need a long and sustained response. People in Vanuatu are subsistence farmers. They grow food for their own consumption. Crops will be absolutely wiped out from this.”

Outlying islands may take weeks to reach, aid officials said, while a lack of clean water and widespread damage to crops meant the situation could deteriorate sharply in coming days.

There were no reports of looting but Skirrow described men whose homes had been destroyed walking the streets of Port Vila with machetes and families huddling without shelter after their flimsy homes of thatch were torn away by the wind and rain.

Many residents were in evacuation centers, he said, but the authorities were ill prepared.

"These people are homeless now. These people are going to be there for probably six weeks," Skirrow said.

As darkness fell on Saturday, the storm was moving off to the south but the wind was still strong.

U.N. relief workers were gearing up for a rapid response on Sunday, with members drawn from as far away as Europe.

However, with the airport closed and high wind still blowing it was not clear how they could reach Vanuatu.

Sune Gudnitz, regional head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said sending in military aircraft was an option, possibly from Australia.

Sunday 15 March 2015

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