Friday, 15 May 2015

Remains of 21 of the 72 Valenzuela fire fatalities temporarily buried

The remains of 21 of the 72 people killed in the fire that hit a warehouse in Valenzuela City last Wednesday were temporarily buried Thursday night, a television report said Friday morning.

A report on "News TV Live" also said the bodies of 48 other fatalities are scheduled to be buried, also temporarily, at 2 p.m. Friday.

Grieving members of the families of the 21 expressed disappointment for not being able to give proper respects to their dearly departed, the report said.

Also, the report said coffins containing the charred remains of the 21 were numbered for easy retrieval after all the victims shall have been properly identified through DNA test.

Meanwhile, the remains of the 48 others are being kept at a barangay hall in Maysan and are being readied for temporary burial Friday afternoon, the report said.

After identifying all the remains, the city government will notify the families of the victims to claim the bodies for proper funeral and final burial services, it added.

Friday 15 May 2015

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Over 181 people died in Victoria Day disaster of 1881

For the past two weeks we have been looking at the terrible tragedy that occurred on May 24, 1881 in the usually placid waters of the Thames River between downtown London and Springbank Park. It is a difficult tragedy for us to grasp today, in in a time of much safer travel and our benign view of the Thames River as it lazily drifts through Chatham-Kent on its way to Lake St. Clair. How, we wonder, could anything that tragic happen in such a shallow and narrow body of water?

Last week we were there when the over-loaded paddle wheel excursion steamer, the Victoria, tipped over in the Thames and the upper deck crashed onto the lower deck and the boat sank in 17 feet of water within a remarkably short period of time.

Some survivors managed to escape the horror and make it to shore and then returned to the waters to help pull bodies from beneath the wreckage and place them on board another excursion steamer. The Princess Louise had quickly transformed itself from a boat of pleasure to a morgue.

Many of the bodies brought ashore showed signs of the terrible struggles, open wounds that were bleeding profusely. Many of the faces were terribly disfigured, while others in death showed the terror on their faces.

The late afternoon was quickly filled with heroic actions in brave attempts to save others. Stories about the immediate aftermath of the sinking abound and many were saved due to superhuman efforts on the part of fellow passengers and passersby. However, there were other tales to be told as well.

Many of the bodies were not identified properly, causing much grief to people when they were told of the loss of a loved one, only to discover that the rescuers had made an error in identification. And so the stories went on, each as terrifying and bizarre as the next one. Entire families were wiped out and people watched in horror as loved ones died before their eyes.

Between the hours of 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., the Thames gave up one victim almost every minute. In that hour, 59 bodies were retrieved. By 10 p.m., 152 lifeless bodies had been taken from the muddy waters.

As darkness closed in, bonfires were lit to assist rescuers in their gruesome task, and in a mistaken interpretation one European newspaper drew sketches that indicated the bodies taken from the Thames were for some odd health reason being burned on the spot!

Thieves, as in any other time past or present, also worked through the night stealing watches, jewelry or money when the overworked police officers were not looking.

Hearses, carriages for hire and wagons were in short supply, as were the drivers. Many of them charged exorbitant prices and one driver, in a hurry to carry even more corpses, took a body to its home, found no one there and decided to open a window and gently slide the corpse through the window onto the floor. He then quickly returned for another gruesome load. Another driver left a lifeless body sitting up in a chair in the family home with only a brief, hastily-scribbled note.

Funerals went on for a full week and a general pall of gloom hung over the city. In a London South neighbourhood, on one city block, five funerals were held from six homes. In total it is believed that at least 181 people lost their lives that day in the tranquil waters of the Thames.

By Aug. 8 the hulk of the Victoria, which had remained not far from her dock for over two months, was finally dismantled before the winter set in. The machinery and boiler were sold for scrap and no one in London wanted any reminders of a pleasure craft that, on a glorious May morning a short time before, so many had wanted to clamour on-board and celebrate a time that seemed so full of life, promise and joy.

A follow-up story on a much more positive note came to me earlier this year from a reader (Jane Blake) in London. She told me that although her cousin Eloise Lawson perished that day, her grandmother (Sally Walker) survived due to a lie and a secret liaison with her boyfriend.

Sally, who was 15 at the time, was supposed to be on the Victoria that day with her cousin Eloisa, but in secret had made plans to go for a picnic with her boyfriend instead. Eloisa “covered” for her by telling both families that they were going together on the excursion aboard the Victoria.

When Sally returned home to an empty house late that afternoon, hysterical neighbours informed her of the terrible tragedy and that Sally’s family was at the pier trying to identify her body. Quick-thinking Sally rushed down to the area where the drowning victims were being brought ashore. Making sure that her dress, hair and face were wet and muddy she proceeded to find her much relieved parents, who celebrated for years after this their daughter’s “miraculous survival”!

Friday 15 May 2015

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How the mountains hid the disaster – reaching the remote communities after the earthquake in Nepal

Kathmandu had already hit the headlines worldwide. ‘Whole streets and squares in the capital of more than one million people were covered in rubble. Stunned residents stared at temples that were once part of their daily lives and now were reduced to nothing,” wrote CNN a day after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Locals call it earthquake 72 as this year is 2072 in the Nepalese calendar.

In the early days there were already estimates that the rural areas were badly hit but the mountains hid the worst of the effects.

The road to Chautara in Sindhupalchok winds steeply upwards towards the town which sits 1,600m above sea level. Four days after the quake, the area initially looked relatively untroubled. Some houses had been destroyed but people had already set up tarpaulins and many houses are standing without visible cracks.

But as the road gets narrower and damage is more devastating. The scenery changes from the breathtaking beauty to overwhelming destruction. Village after village completely destroyed.

The town of Sangachok is one of them and the smell of death is inescapable. The whole village gathered to watch a Chinese search and rescue team dig through the ruins of a house. Two victims were somewhere under the rubble – an adult and a baby, both dead, the villagers say.

According to the locals there were 2,100 houses in the area before the earthquake. Just over 200 are left. More than a hundred people have been killed and drinking water was running out.

“Thank you for coming here and taking all this information. But please go to the remote villages. It is much worse there,” urged a teenage boy who showed a notebook where the villagers have gathered information about people who were lost and found.

The journey continues through other destroyed villages and after a while the road slopes down to Chautara – a town that was expected to have withstood a quake.

But the streets were choked with rubble. In the bazaar, rescuers were digging furiously as word spread that someone was alive under the debris.

The district hospital nearby is still standing but too dangerous to use. The patients had been moved to a few tents on the football field close by. The sight was surreal.

A young boy asked for a tarpaulin – he is spending his nights without shelter, as do most people in town, even now. There was no electricity and the petrol had run out. People had given up hoping helicopters would come to their rescue. The situation is bleak.

A week later, I returned to Chautara and it is slowly waking up. Some stores are open and streets have been cleared slightly but there is still rubble everywhere. People have started building shelters from whatever they can find.

Khriss, 12, likes Real Madrid and wants to be a football player. At the moment he sleeps in a tent on a football field. He doesn’t talk about it but you can tell that he may no longer have a home. The days are as difficult as the nights for Khriss – there is nothing to do and nowhere to go. He spends his time practising his English with international aid workers.

The Red Cross has built a field hospital next to Khriss’s tent. It is fully equipped with an x-ray machine, wards, operating theatre and a free pharmacy. Many people still have untreated fractures from the earthquake; mostly pelvis, legs, hands, says the nurse operating the x-ray machine.

The village of Pipaldanda is not far away from Chautara and the road is good enough for at least motorcycles and jeeps. But the whole village is demolished. There are no search and rescue teams here, but bodies are still found as people go through the ruins. An old man has just buried his wife. He also lost his home and fears that the aid won’t reach him because he is illiterate.

There has been some food distribution and you can see some tarps, but it’s evident that a lot of help is still needed.

In Kubende, another village close to Chautara, people are gathered in front of the local school. A Japanese organisation has just distributed food to the village. But there is also another reason people are spending time there. A local man tells that the school yard is now home to 50 people. They have no shelter, electricity or even a torch. “All we have is the sun and the moon,” he says.

It’s now just over two weeks since Earthquake 72. The Red Cross alone has distributed over 30,000 tarps or tents and 100,000 more are expected to arrive soon. Red Cross health facilities have treated thousands of people and its specialist sanitation teams are providing access to safe drinking water. Families, neighbours and strangers are helping each other. Numerous local students and other people are volunteering.

Still, it is estimated that 500,000 homes are destroyed or damaged. The quake has pulled not only Sindhupalchowk but many parts of Nepal back at least a generation. It is clear that the local authorities and the international community have a lot more work to do. Monsoon season is just weeks away which threatens to bring a fresh wave of misery to millions.

Friday 15 May 2015

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