Saturday, 25 April 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rescue efforts hampered by snowy conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 25 April 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 25 April 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local media reported that the group numbered around 50.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 25 April 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 25 April 2015

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