Monday, 16 March 2015

Cyclone Pam: Vanuatu rescue effort as bodies collected after monster storm

A corpse in the main street, another floating in the harbour, reports of dozens dead elsewhere, and buildings and whole villages blasted into pieces.

These were some of the scenes that greeted dazed Vanuatu residents and tourists on Sunday as the rescue effort and clean-up started in the tiny Pacific island nation which was devastated by Cyclone Pam. The monster category-5 storm, which brought wind gusts of 300km/h, has weakened to a category-3 cyclone as it heads towards New Zealand's North Island

On Sunday, the country's National Disaster Management Office reported at least eight people were confirmed dead and 20 had suffered serious injuries.

Advertisement But the death and injury toll was expected to rise as search and rescue efforts ramp up. The first flights bringing outside aid landed at the newly cleared airport near the capital Port Vila about midday on Sunday.

Unconfirmed reports were circulating of more than 40 people killed in northern Penama province, according to the United Nations Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the Pacific. The province is about 120 kilometres from Port Vila.

Two foreign nationals were thought to have drowned when their sailing boat sank in the rough seas, but their nationalities have not been confirmed.

Australian tourism operators in Port Vila on Sunday confirmed they saw bodies around the capital.

Resort project manager Bernie Millman said he had gone outside on Saturday morning to find a Vanuatu national dead in front of a resort on the main street.

It looked like some local person had been stranded during the night. Perhaps he'd had too much to drink and had been trying to get back to his home and fallen asleep," said Mr Millman.

"And he's been hit by something. They called the ambulance and the police and they came and got the body."

Charter boat operator Australian Peter Phillipps said the body of an unidentified expat had been removed from the harbour in front of his mooring in Port Vila.

He was a fellow who had been living on a yacht and got into strife. He got into the tender and was drowned. They found his body in the tender [on Saturday].

"I couldn't tell you where he was from. We used to see him standing on his yacht waving to people."

Tom Skirrow, country director for Save the Children, said the Vanuatu Government's National Disaster Management Office co-ordinating the emergency response has confirmed the eight deaths.

The victims had been recovered from Port Vila, and its surrounding areas.

"It's without doubt a small number now and it will increase significantly as we start looking around. The problem at the moment is that no one can phone, no one has any communication or any power, so it's very difficult to get accurate numbers," Mr Skirrow said in a phone interview from Port Vila on Sunday.

Thousands more are believed to be homeless across some of the country's 83 islands after the cyclone's 300km/h gusts were reported to have leveled entire villages.

Monday 16 March 2015

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Rescuers retrieve bodies after Brazilian tour bus crash kills 54

The death toll from a tour bus's horrific plunge into a densely wooded ravine in southern Brazil has risen to 54, as President Dilma Rousseff expressed her sadness over the news.

The bus went off a twisting mountain road on Saturday and crashed 400m to the bottom of the ravine, landing on its side.

Fire fighters pulled the victims from the wreckage, despite the difficult terrain and the bodies were taken to a morgue.

The bus, carrying a group of evangelical Christians to a religious event in the neighboring state of Parana, swerved off a curve on Saturday and 400 metres before coming to rest in a wooded area snarled in thick vegetation.

Rescue crews were still trying to recover the bodies of victims on Sunday. At least six survivors, including two children, were being treated for injuries.

Nearly 100 rescue workers descended on the crash site, but the difficult terrain and night fall complicated the work.

Among the dead were at least eight children and 24 women, regional government spokeswoman Ana Paula Keller said.

Advertisement 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 and other victims succumbed to their injuries at a nearby hospital.

A government official in Santa Catarina said the vehicle was likely carrying 59 people. The bus was supposed to be carrying 50 people, authorities said.

Several ambulances and a helicopter were dispatched to the area and recovery efforts resumed this afternoon.

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 travelling a route of about 300 kilometres 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. Police said it appeared the brakes on the bus had failed.

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.

Monday 16 March 2015

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Victims of Kazan fire identified

Relatives have identified 16 of the 17 bodies retrieved after last week's fire at the Admiral shopping center in the city of Kazan, 600 miles east of Moscow. Seven of the victims were foreigners, the Tatarstan department of the Emergency Situations Ministry said on Sunday.

"Sixteen bodies have been n identified at the republic forensic medicine center, including the bodies of seven foreign citizens - two from Tajikistan, one from Kyrgyzstan, one from Azerbaijan, three from Uzbekistan and one from Turkey. Also, a fragment of a male body has been identified," a ministry statement said.

Thirteen bodies have been handed over to relatives to be buried.

The fire broke out at the Admiral shopping center on March 11 at 9:30 p.m.

Monday 16 March 2015

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