Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Mozambique plane crash victims buried

The unidentified remains of those killed when a Mozambican plane crashed in northern Namibia in November 2013, were buried at the Gammams Cemetery in Pionierspark yesterday morning.

The aircraft crashed in the Bwabwata National Park in the Zambezi region in November 2013, while flying from Maputo to Luanda in Angola. There were 27 passengers and 6 crew members on board when the plane crashed, killing all on board.

The event was attended by officials of the Mozambican LAM airline and the managing director of Avbob Namibia, the funeral parlour that carried out the burials.

A Muslim cleric and a Christian pastor conducted services before the six coffins containing the remains of the deceased were lowered into three graves.

Mozambican airline officials yesterday refused to comment on the burials.

On board the plane were 10 Mozambicans, nine Angolans, five Portuguese citizens, a Portuguese-Brazilian citizen, a French citizen and a Chinese citizen. Early last year, the National Forensic Science Institute (NFSI) said there were more than 600 body parts and that they had positively identified 16 passengers.

The institute also said although some families were against the repatriation of the bodies at first, they changed their minds later.

Wednesday 29 April 2015

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How amateur mappers are helping recovery efforts in Nepal

In the waning days of April 2014, two months after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared somewhere near the South China Sea, 60-year-old American pilot Michael Hoebel reported that he had found it. Unlike many searchers, Hoebel was not employed by a government, or an airline; he claimed he had discovered the wreckage of the passenger jet from the comfort of his home computer. He was not alone: About 8 million other people logged onto the global-imaging crowdsource website Tomnod during the initial, frenzied search for Flight 370.

It was not the site's first crowdsourcing campaign, but it was by far its most popular. Tomnod, a project of the geospatial content company DigitalGlobe, provided armchair plane-hunters like Hoebel with constantly updated satellite images of the rapidly growing search area and the tools to digitally “tag” mysterious shapes in the sea. More essentially, it gave people the world over a way to feel like they were really helping to find the plane. They didn't, really: Hoebel’s “plane," off the coast of Thailand, wasn't a plane at all. Flight 370 is still missing, over a year after it fell off of radar.

But the amateur satellite-image-perusers are still at it, and Kevin Bullock, director of product management at DigitalGlobe, says this current Tomnod campaign may be more important. Last Saturday night, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit near Kathmandu, the capital and largest city in Nepal. By Sunday morning, DigitalGlobe's satellite had captured images of the destruction in the city and its surrounding villages and had uploaded them online—nearly 5,700 square miles in all.

Since then, over 16,500 volunteers have used the Tomnod platform to compare the new satellite images with the old, placing 74,000 tags on major destruction areas, damaged roads, and ravaged homes. Their crowdsourced data is plugged into an algorithm that identifies frequent tag agreements to discover which areas are in need of the most help. That information is then made available to relief groups, who can use the images to target survivors in need of food, water, tents, and medical supplies.

“What’s interesting to me is that that Malaysian Flight 370 grabbed the world’s headlines, but it’s a needle in a haystack situation. We haven't found the plane,” Bullock said in a phone interview. “There’s a stark difference with Kathmandu. …Here we are actually helping to save lives. We can really show [where help is needed] with coordinates.”

The Tomnod community—DigitalGlobal says about 1 million people are registered users of the site—hasn't quite taken to the challenge of mapping post-earthquake Nepal like it did to the mystery of the plane. (The Nepal campaign has seen just 0.2 percent of the total volunteers of the Flight 370 campaign, though it's still too early for a final engagement tally.) Still, amateur mappers have congregated around the campaign's social media sites to share tips and tricks.

As with much amateur online work, parts of the Tomnod campaign feel frustratingly ineffectual—a little bit like a way for people with all the privileges of internet access to feel good about doing little. As CityLab pointed out Monday, professional mappers are already volunteering to map Nepal’s devastated areas through the open-source mapping platform OpenStreetMap, where their more sophisticated skill sets give them a better chance to help humanitarians on the ground, and more quickly. (While Tomnod's data helps groups pinpoint problem areas, Bullock explains, the OSM data will actually allow them to navigate Nepal's altered topography to get there.)

But Tomnod’s strength is simplicity. While OSM’s more advanced software is less accessible to the lay Internet user, the crowdsourced campaign can be used by anyone. “I have a 9-year-old daughter, and she can do this,” Bullock says. “Anyone can do this. …. You can pull out your phone and just spend five minutes contributing to the cause.”

There's another benefit. Over 4,600 bodies have been pulled from the rubble in Nepal, and that number will certainly rise. But statistics and photos of disaster in faraway lands are a dime a dozen, and empathy doesn't come cheap. In other words: Getting those in wealthy countries to donate is not an easy task. But there's something devastatingly unique and striking about Tomnod's grainy pictures of destruction from above. You'll toggle through before and after pictures to find that a road or a cluster of homes is just gone.

Wednesday 29 April 2015

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Nepal earthquake: DNA test to identify Assam victims

The Assam government will conduct DNA tests to identify the bodies of its residents who died in the Nepal earthquake.

Assam home commissioner L.S. Changsan today said seven persons from Assam -all from Guwahati - were feared dead. Six bodies have been identified by family members so far. The seventh body, suspected to be that of Padma Majumdar of Hengerabari here, could not be identified as her family members said it was not hers.

Padma was one of a group of eight from Hengerabari who went to Kathmandu on pilgrimage and was caught in Saturday's disaster. Five of the group are feared dead. Four bodies were identified by a group of relatives who reached Kathmandu yesterday. Padma is feared to be the fifth person killed from the area.

Kalpana Adhikari from Bhangagarh area and Hema Saikia from Narikal Basti area of the city were also killed.

Changsan said DNA tests would be conducted on all the bodies to be doubly sure about their identity. "We have collected DNA samples from the family members of the victims and it will be matched with those of the bodies," she added.

The official said there was delay in bringing the bodies to the state because of problems in flight movement in Kathmandu and inclement weather.

"The Kathmandu airport with its limited capacity is incapable of catering to an emergency situation like this. Aircraft have to keep hovering in the sky for an hour or two before they can land. We are expecting the bodies to reach Delhi tonight," she said.

Officials in the ministry of external affairs said the bodies would be brought from Kathmandu only in Indian Air Force aircraft. Around five IAF aircraft have been pressed into service at Kathmandu.

"Flight communication was affected today because of inclement weather. Yesterday, flight service was affected by a riot-like situation when more than 5,000 Indian nationals tried to enter the airport. Police had to be called in to control the situation," Changsan said.

A survivor who reached Guwahati today said there was a 3km-long queue by Indian nationals at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. She said she could come only because of help offered by an airport official in catching a flight without having to wait in queue.

"Buses from Assam have reached Nepal today and we hope it would reduce the burden on flights and chances of further such situation," she said.

Changsan said a police team, led by inspector-general S.N. Singh, would leave for Kathmandu tonight and try to bring back people from Assam stranded there by road.

She said additional director-general of Assam police Umesh Kumar who tried to board a flight from Delhi to Kathmandu yesterday could not do so and reached Nepal capital this morning.

Changsan said of the 141 people from Assam reportedly missing in Nepal, 92 have so far either reached Delhi or Guwahati - five of them reached here today - while 13 have been traced and found to be safe. "Seven injured are in hospitals in Kathmandu and our efforts are on to trace the remaining 22," she added.

The relatives of a family of five from Noonmati here, who have been doing business in Kathmandu for the past 15 years, said they had talked to them on Friday, a day before the earthquake. "But after the quake their mobile number is not working," a relative said.

The external affairs ministry could not give specific data on how many people from the Northeast were stranded in Nepal.


A district-level joint mock drill on earthquake was conducted at the Assam Secretariat in Guwahati today. A mock evacuation exercise was conducted in Block D and E to generate awareness among people in case of disaster.

A task force, comprising the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force, fire & emergency services and civil defence, operated under the supervision of the Assam State Disaster Management Authority for planning and co-ordination of the exercise. NDRF rescuers displayed extrication methods like rope rescue, highrise rescue and victim stabilisation.

Wednesday 29 April 2015

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Commemorating the Quintinshill rail disaster

Dumfries and Galloway will commemorate the centenary of the Quintinshill rail disaster on 22 May 2015.

The Quintinshill rail disaster on 22 May 1915 claimed 227 lives, including 216 servicemen of The Royal Scots as they headed for Gallipoli. Another 246 people were injured. The train crash, near Gretna, remains the UK’s worst rail disaster.

A troop train that had departed from Larbert station crashed into a local service at a junction near Gretna. An express train bound for Glasgow ploughed into the wreckage just moments later.

Many of those who died in the tragedy were servicemen with the Leith-based Royal Scots, who were travelling to Liverpool before they sailed to Gallipoli.

The events at Gretna on 22 May will be followed by a commemoration in Leith the next day.

They will be included in the national World War One centenary commemoration programme.

The programme of events includes a march to Quintinshill rail siding; the opening of a Roll of Honour at Gretna Old Church; a commemorative tree planting at Gretna Green war memorial; the premiere reading of Quintinshill poem at Stormont village hall; and a wreath laying at Quintinshill Bridge. HRH The Princess Royal will visit the region to participate in the commemorations.

Council Leader Ronnie Nicholson said, “As we commemorate the events in World War 1, it’s important that we take time to respectfully mark the centenary of this momentous event, which took place in our region. Our Council is working with local communities and a range of appropriate organisations to deliver a fitting tribute.”

Wednesday 29 April 2015

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