Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Arizona border deaths down as deadliest part of the year begins

April saw the fewest recovered border-crosser remains in more than a decade, but the triple-digit temperatures of the deadliest months have just arrived.

As of May 30 this fiscal year, the remains of 57 people trying to come into the United States through Southern Arizona have been recovered, data from the Pima County medical examiner show. But there were five bodies found in both April and May. That’s about half the number of bodies found during those months over the last decade.

The number of remains is not the actual number of people dying but the number of people found.

“We will continue to find remains for years to come even if nobody crosses,” said Gregory Hess, chief medical examiner in Pima County

As people tried to cross through more rugged terrain to avoid being caught, the number of border deaths jumped. Since 2001, at least 2,300 migrants have died in the attempt to cross through the desert.

Even with fewer migrants coming across the border, the rate at which people were dying didn’t decrease until fiscal year 2014. This year seems to be following that trend.

The Border Patrol reports 70 deaths in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the other deadliest sectors along the U.S.-Mexico border, plus 416 rescues as of May 19.

Wednesday 3 June 2016

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Netherlands' plans to complete DNA tests on bodies of Malaysian Boeing crash victims by July 1

utch experts plan to complete the DNA tests on the remains of passengers of the Malaysian Boeing downed over Donbas in summer 2014 by July 1, 2015 and provide the remains to the victims' relatives a month later, the Ukrainian Security Service has reported.

"They [the Netherlands] have set the task to complete the DNA tests by July 1 and return the remains to the relatives by August 1," Vasyl Vovk, the head of the Main Investigative Department of the Ukrainian Security Service, told a briefing in Kyiv on Wednesday.

Vovk said the Netherlands is now completing the tests on the victims' remains.

"Another 4,000 remains have been collected. Of these body parts, 2,600 can be identified," he said.

A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed in the Donetsk region on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people on board.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

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India heatwave: death toll passes 2,500, post-mortem procedures changed

As the block of ice under her husband's body melted, Chanaga Ratnam wondered whether local officials would arrive in time to verify that he did indeed die from India's extreme heatwave, thus qualifying her for compensation.

The 55-year-old could not afford more ice to preserve Aankaiah's remains for much longer, and was keen to cremate him as quickly as possible in line with local custom.

The southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh, which accounted for around two-thirds of 2,500 Indians who died from the recent searing temperatures, has responded to such concerns, easing conditions for paying compensation of 100,000 rupees ($1,600).

"Now the procedure has been changed; no post-mortem report is required," said Y. Maithreya, local administrator of Venkatagiri, a town near the village where Ratnam lives.

Most families are reluctant to conduct post mortems as superstitions abound about the removal of organs from the dead.

Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu's state government, which initially insisted on a post-mortem report to award compensation, realised it was impractical.

Now, three local officials will inquire into deaths reported to be from the heat. If bodies have been cremated, five witnesses, usually neighbours or friends, are called together to determine the cause of death.

"We have to verify all of this, since the compensation has to reach the right people; not those who have died of natural causes or heart attacks," said Maithreya.

The change comes as no comfort to Ratnam, widow of Chanaga Aankaiah, a 59-year-old farm labourer who died of sunstroke on Friday after going to work in fields around the village of Madhu Reddy Colony, near Gudur.

"They called him for some odd jobs in the fields and he went enthusiastically," she sobbed. "He came home, said he was unwell, drank some water and just died."


The Chanagas are among the poorest people in Andhra Pradesh, and work as farm labourers earning 150 rupees ($2.35) a day.

Doctors and support workers have fanned out across the state to hand out relief materials like rehydration drinks and saline solutions, advising people not to go outdoors in the afternoons.

"These deaths are easily avoidable," said M. Sudhir Kumar, a civil assistant surgeon at Dakkili Primary Healthcare Centre.

"All they need to do is follow basic precautions like avoiding working in the sun. Not many listen. What can we do? It's a problem of poverty." Recent natural disasters have highlighted India's vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Following floods in Uttarakhand, northern India, that killed nearly 6,000 in 2013, the heatwave is the next danger sign.

May was the hottest month on record in Andhra Pradesh for nearly four decades. A reported 1,677 people died from the heatwave in the state alone, up sharply from last year.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in 2014 that freak weather patterns in India due to global warming could become more frequent, resulting in huge loss of life and crops.

"The problem is made worse by people living in little huts with asbestos sheets for roofs," said V. Haripriya, Deputy District Medical and Health Officer at Venkatagiri.

"In villages in Andhra Pradesh it is very common for children to leave ageing parents behind while they seek a living in faraway cities. There is no one to care for the elderly."

Officials dismiss reports that Naidu's offer of compensation has led to over-reporting of heatwave deaths in Andhra Pradesh.

"It is wrong to say that the death toll figures include deaths due to old age or other reasons," said Tulasi Rani, the state's Special Commissioner for Disaster Management.

Heat or no heat, Aankaiah's wife Ratnam will have to head to the fields once her husband is cremated. With no sons to support her, she has no choice but to work to feed herself.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

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China ship capsize: Hopes fade of finding Yangtze survivors

On the second morning after what may turn out to be China’s worst boat disaster for more than 60 years, state television showed the grim scene as military and police frogmen continued to pull bodies from the hull of the Eastern Star, which now lies upturned just a few dozen meters from the bank of the Yangtze in central Hubei province. One body was shown on live TV, lying partially covered on the hull of the boat.

State media also showed pictures of Premier Li Keqiang and other officials, who had arrived at the scene on Tuesday, bowing in respect to the bodies of two victims as they lay covered on the deck of a nearby boat. Previously, reports said, Li had held meetings “throughout the night,” as the increasingly desperate attempts to find survivors continued. By early afternoon on Wednesday, a total of 19 bodies were reported to have been recovered, including a number of bodies found further downstream the previous day.

Officials said there were now more than 200 frogmen at the site; many worked overnight under floodlights from a nearby salvage vessel, and holes have been cut in the hull to facilitate access. The water level on the river has also been lowered by about 20 inches, China Central Television (CCTV) reported, by closing sluice gates on the giant Three Gorges Dam upriver, in an attempt to make working conditions easier.

With almost no underwater visibility, navy divers used their hands to feel their way through sections of the submerged vessel, Zhang Jianxin, a transport ministry official, told Chinese television.

However, 40 hours after the ship sank while travelling from Nanjing to Chongqing, hopes that others might be rescued were fading fast. “The chances are small,” said Shi Chengming, who was leading a team of civilian rescue workers from a Buddhist charity in Chongqing to the disaster site.

Instead, staff at the Rongcheng crematorium in Jianli – the town nearest to the wreckage – were preparing to receive the dead. Shen Yuanhai, the owner of a coffin factory in Henan province, said he had driven through the night in a convoy of four lorries, each stacked high with refrigerated caskets. “We have brought 200,” said Shen, whose factory is more than 400 miles from Jianli in the city of Zhengzhou.

After being unloaded by a forklift truck, the caskets, which have transparent, flower-covered lids, were packed side-to-side into four halls where wakes will be held over the coming days.

Xie Xuening, a coffin factory employee, said the scale of the loss had shocked him. “I feel upset,” he said. “It is a disaster.”

By Wednesday morning, the bodies of seven victims had arrived at the Rongcheng crematorium. Their identities were not immediately clear. A black-and-white noticeboard had been placed outside one of the halls for staff to record the names and ages of victims, alongside their photograph. The majority of the Eastern Star’s passengers were tourists aged between 50 and 80, state media has reported, although a three-year-old boy was also on board.

A funeral parlour employee, who declined to give his name, said staff were expecting the worst. “We’ve contacted all of the crematoriums around here so that if we don’t have room we can send the bodies there,” he said.

As the families of Eastern Star passengers began arriving in Jianli, dozens of local women gathered at the Rongcheng Crematorium to watch the grim preparations. “I would tell the families not to be sad,” said Zou Jinlin, 40. “It was a natural disaster. It wasn’t human error.”

Zhang Jianxin, deputy head of the rescue department of China’s Transport Ministry, told CCTV that the divers were taking turns to swim through the boat’s corridors, going from cabin to cabin in the hope of finding someone alive trapped in an air pocket. Officials said they were also considering using salvage vessels to right the ship, but suggested that this would not happen until it was clear there were no further survivors.

Experts quoted by state media acknowledged that more than 36 hours after the boat capsized, the chances of finding more survivors was getting slimmer – but officials said rescue attempts would continue: “We will not give up until we are sure there is no hope [of finding anyone alive],” Yin Jie, director of the General Office of China’s Maritime Search and Rescue Center, told CCTV.

TV reports also emphasized that six nearby hospitals had prepared beds for possible survivors, while earth-movers had cleared roads to the river bank to make it easier to move anyone found onboard. Searches by boat and helicopter were also continuing on a 137-mile stretch of the river downstream.

State TV also showed an interview with Zhang Hui, a tour guide from the company that organized the group of 406 mainly elderly passengers on the boat, in which he described how he had jumped from the boat and floated downstream for nine hours, before finally being washed ashore.

Meanwhile speculation has continued as to how the boat, a 76.5-meter luxury cruise ship, overturned so quickly that its crew apparently did not have time to issue a distress signal -- and most passengers did not have time to jump into the river. Reports say the ship was hit by a tornado and capsized within little over a minute. There are also reports that the boat may have tried to turn around on the river, in an attempt to anchor as the storm got worse.

But some Chinese media have questioned whether a renovation of the ship’s upper cabins may have affected its center of gravity. Internet users have also asked questions about why the ship’s captain and first engineer were among the small number of confirmed survivors: some accused them of deserting the ship -- though state TV said it was possible they had gone out on deck to check what was happening and had simply been thrown into the river, though it said this had not been confirmed. Both officials are being held by police for questioning.

Meanwhile, following angry scenes at a local government office in Shanghai on Tuesday, when family members of those on board demanded more information from the government after finding the travel agency’s offices closed, officials set up a temporary center for relatives to get more information in an old railway depot. However, local officials said they had no plans yet to take family members to the scene of the accident, as some had demanded, saying it was more important to focus on rescue work, according to Shanghai’s Dragon TV.

The government of Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu -- the home province of about half those on board -- appears to have responded faster: on Tuesday evening the deputy secretary general of the municipal government and other officials held a meeting for family members at a local hotel, at which its deputy head Xu Ming responded to sometimes angry questions from relatives, and arranged places for those from out of town to stay the night, according to Dragon TV. Officials said the city had made preparations to take family members to the scene, and said this would happen -- but they had to wait until authorities at the scene gave them permission.

However, on Wednesday afternoon, the state-run shipping company that operated the boat was reported to have arranged to transport 80 relatives of the boat’s crew from Chongqing, where the company is based, to a town in Hubei close to the scene of the accident. A number of foreign journalists were also given access to the site of the accident on Wednesday afternoon -- after some were reportedly prevented from getting close to the scene on Tuesday by police.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

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