Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Delay in recovery of dead bodies concerns monitoring committee

The dead bodies buried at Singati of Dolakha and Langtang, Mailung and Rasuwagadhi of Rasuwa district which were struck by the massive earthquake of April 25 and subsequent aftershocks have not yet been recovered.

It was found in course of the on-site monitoring by the sub-committee under the National Disaster Management, Monitoring and Direction Special Committee of the Legislature-Parliament that the dead bodies are yet to be taken out from the debris in the quake-hit northern remote and mountainous areas.

“The efforts made to take out corpses from the rubble in the far-flung areas, were found inadequate”, the monitoring subcommittee said, noting that “there were no presence of government and non-government bodies and human presence was also slim at local level due to psychological fear of earthquake.” It was stated that the dead body recovery bid saw further setback owing to remote hilly terrain; lack of transportation, competent human resource and coordination of information; and communications.

The monitoring subcommittee has underlined the need of effective excavation of the devastated tourism sites, residential houses and hotel buildings in Gorkha, Dhading, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchowk and Dolakha, among others.

Locals are still reeling from a sense of fear and terror at Rigaun, Lapa, Tipling, Sertung and Jharlang in the northern belt of Dhading with the complete destruction of their physical structures.

The subcommittee said that the areas were found to have been without human settlements during the monitoring and are in need of relocation to the secured places due to fear of landslide.

Likewise, the human settlements at Narayanthan, Gaira Bisauna, and Deupur VDC-2, Khatechaur of Kavre are also under the threat of dry landslide, which should also be shifted to secured area, the monitoring team recommended.

The government’s attention was drawn towards possible menace of landslides to human settlements in the northern mountainous area.

The subcommittee cautioned the government of risks posed to human settlements by the possible disruption of the Seti River in Suklagandaki municipality in Tanahun due to earthquake.

It seems that the alternative arrangement should immediately be put in place for the relocation of the vulnerable human settlements envisaging perspective plan of resettlement.

The parliamentary committee had undertaken onsite monitoring in 14 earthquake-ravaged districts and other affected sites through the subcommittee.

The monitoring subcommittee in its report urged the government to keep the operation of road and communication connectivity disrupted due to the natural disaster.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

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Ghana: DNA test for identification of June 3 disaster victims begin

Family members of those who died in the June 3 flood and fire disaster have begun identifying their relatives through DNA tests.

Out of 72 bodies sent to the Police Hospital morgue, 50 of them have been identified.

President John Mahama announced last week that families whose relatives have been charred beyond recognition in the June 3 disaster should bring DNA to the hospital for the tests to be conducted.

Even families who have the bodies of their relatives quite intact are also being made to go through the DNA testing to ensure that bodies are handed over to the right families.

Already, three bodies have had to be exhumed after three separate families claimed ownership of them.

It is estimated that 152 people lost their lives through the disaster which was caused by floods after a 5-hour downpour and a subsequent explosion at a GOIL fuel station at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle.

Some family members who spoke to Joy News' Naa Dedei Tettey said samples were taken through mouth swaps for the tests.

The President has set aside a Ȼ50,000 fund to support the victims and their families.

Management of GOIL has also set aside Ȼ60,000 to be used to cater for the victims and their families.

President Mahama has ordered that those affected by the floods be treated free of charge. Those who have made any payments for treatment at the hospital would have their monies refunded.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

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75th anniversary of the sinking of the Lancastria: the worst sea disaster in our history

It's the worst sea disaster in our history - the sinking of the Lancastria.

Superlatives are never even nearly adequate to express human suffering, bereavement and loss, but today is the 75th anniversary of Britain’s ‘worst’ maritime disaster.

The word ‘worst’ is a despairingly weak indicator of a wartime tragedy that was of such immense proportions it wasn’t acknowledged because it would have damaged public morale.

Today in 1940 the news was supressed that over 4,000 men, women and children perished when HMT (His Majesty’s Transport) Lancastria sank less than 20 minutes after the overcrowded vessel was bombed by the German Luftwaffe near the French port of Saint-Nazaire.

Some say the death toll was very much greater. One heartrending approximation suggests nearly twice that figure.

More than 6,000 servicemen and civilians - some believe as many as 9,000 - were on board the Lancastria when it was bombed and sank off the coast of France during the Second World War.

Only about 2,500 people survived, representing a greater loss of life than the Titanic and Lusitania disasters combined.

As they crushed their way on to the over-laden tugs, tenders and fishing boats lined up alongside the quay at the port of St Nazaire on France's Atlantic coast, the remnants of Britain's lost army were in good humour. 'Baa, baa!' the tired men bleated in jest, jostling like sheep in a pen, and everyone laughed.

After weeks of staying just ahead of the advancing German army and a five-mile queue to board the boats, it was good to be going home.

Out in the middle of the Loire estuary, the Cunard liner-turned-troopship, the Lancastria, was anchored, waiting to receive them for the journey back to Blighty. The ferryboats hurried out towards her, through hails of machine-gun bursts from dozens of marauding enemy aircraft.

The men on board were not to know that they were about to be pitched into the biggest maritime disaster in British history, with a death toll that would dwarf the 1,500 of the Titanic and the 2,000 of the Lusitania.

An unknown number of people - possibly upwards of 4,000 - were about to die in awful circumstances on that summer's day 70 years ago. Yet, shockingly, every effort was made to conceal from the British people the news of this terrible tragedy.

It was the middle of June 1940. The famous evacuation from Dunkirk, which miraculously spirited the bulk of the British Expeditionary Force away from beleaguered France, had been over for a fortnight - and been brilliantly spun by the oratory of Prime Minister Winston Churchill from a humiliating retreat into a triumph.

But what Churchill had neglected to tell the anxious nation was that there were around 150,000 British servicemen still marooned on the other side of the Channel. Some were front-line troops who never made it to the beaches in time. But most were the engineers, cooks, pay clerks and RAF ground staff whose jobs had been to support military operations.

As one by one the ports along the Channel coast fell to the Germans, this fleeing, forgotten army was pushed ever westwards, towards Normandy, Brittany and then the Atlantic shoreline. From England, a flotilla of 23 destroyers and 50 merchant vessels steamed to save them.

At St Nazaire, the Lancastria, a luxury cruise ship before it was requisitioned for war work, stood out as the pride of this makeshift rescue fleet.

As the weary men hauled themselves from the small boats and shinned up rope netting to her decks, many felt a surge of relief that they had reached safety. She was, after all, enormous and solid as a rock.

The early arrivals gawped at the saloons, the Renaissance dining room, the gym, the two swimming pools, the stewards in white uniforms with gold buttons. But as the numbers climbing on board swelled, it was a question of finding any space you could. Many were directed below decks, where mattresses were laid out on the floor.

How many could she take? The captain initially wanted to draw the line at 3,000, already well over her official civilian capacity of 2,200 souls. But this was an emergency and he was ordered to take as many as he could.

Stewards with mechanical clickers tried to keep tabs on numbers but, in the understandable mayhem, they lost count after 6,000. No one would ever know how many were on board the Lancastria that day, but estimates went as high as 9,000. Nor, inevitably, was there any manifest listing their names.

She had been loading from 7am and it was just before 2pm when the chief officer finally called a halt. He instructed the doors to be closed and the small boats still crowding round her to be turned away.

But, though ready to sail, the Lancastria still rode at anchor. German bombers buzzed overhead, but it was the prospect of an ambush by enemy submarines that troubled the captain more. He was reluctant to head seawards alone and without a proper naval escort. He decided to wait.

The delay didn't go unnoticed. 'Why the hell don't we get cracking?' an unnerved soldier complained to his mates. 'We're a sitting duck here.' He was right. At around 3.40pm, six Junkers 88 bombers from the Luftwaffe's Diving Eagle squadron screamed in. The first attack missed, to the derision of those watching on deck. 'Couldn't hit us if they tried!' scornful voices called out.

They were wrong. On the next pass, three high-explosive bombs burst through the hull of the Lancastria and exploded in the holds. In one hold alone, 800 RAF men were obliterated.

Bodies flew everywhere. Steam scalded out of smashed pipes. Water rushed in.

Panic overwhelmed those who weren't already dead. A main staircase collapsed under the weight of men trying to escape.

From the bridge, the captain looked back in horror at the devastation of his ship. She was on fire, with black smoke belching from burning oil. Water was spouting up through the middle. Within two minutes she was listing badly.

Boats were lowered, though there were not nearly enough to go round. Anything that could float was hurled overboard into water now covered with a thick and choking film of oil.

Men steeled their nerves and followed after. As the mighty ship began to turn turtle, on one side men were able to slide or even step into the water, while on the other they had to leap from 70ft up.

Many of the high-jumpers broke their necks as they glanced off the side, while the impact of hitting the sea at speed could force a life-jacket up with such force that it tore off a man's head.

A survivor remembered his astonishment at seeing what he thought were coconuts bobbing in the water. He looked closer and realised they were human heads. In the water, men clung to whatever they could. But for those still inside, there was no hope.

Horrified faces were seen at portholes as those trapped tried to smash their way out.

As the stricken ship began to go down by the bow, hundreds hung on to the wreckage in desperation, lining the top of the upturned hull as she sank lower and lower. The wise ones got as far away as possible to avoid being sucked down with her.

Within 20 minutes of the bombstrike, the Lancastria was gone, plunging with thousands of bodies inside her 75ft to the bottom of the estuary, where she remains to this day.

On the surface, a terrible fight for survival was underway. There were thousands of struggling, often naked, bodies drifting in a sea of bobbing corpses and body parts. Planks were life-savers. A single boathook supported three men. Ten held onto a large box but, one by one, most slipped beneath the waves from exhaustion. German planes added to the misery with streams of bullets. Their flares ignited the oil.

'We swam through the dead, dodged the oil and the flames and dived down when the Germans strafed the water,' one survivor recalled.

Some men fought each other for a place in a boat or a raft, and savagely kicked away those trying to get on board. Shots were fired in anger. Two officers killed each other in a suicide pact rather than endure a slow death drowning in the oily sea.

Against this, there were heroic tales of men sacrificing their lives for others. And what everyone recalled, alongside the screams of the hurt and the dying, was the singing as men soothed their fears. 'Roll out the barrel,' they sang, to keep up their spirits, and, most poignantly of all, 'There'll always be an England'.

Other ships in the flotilla, though already over-laden themselves, circled round to pick up the Lancastria survivors. Trawlers poured out from St Nazaire to help. Willing hands tirelessly scooped up the oil-blackened and the half-drowned, but the rescue operation took hours. All the while, German planes kept up their harassing machine-gun fire.

Though many were listing, had no radio, no food and no escort, the British rescue ships then made the 300-mile trip home to England rather than return to France and the approaching German army.

In all, 23,000 men were brought home from St Nazaire that day and night, including 2,500 survivors from the Lancastria.

By any measure, the operation to save those stranded in France in the weeks after Dunkirk was a huge success, rescuing 144,000 British servicemen, plus a further 50,000 French, Poles and Czechs.

It deserved the oxygen of publicity every bit as much as Dunkirk. There were two problems, however. First, Churchill had already declared that all our soldiers were home, so to trumpet that even more had come back would expose his earlier economy with the truth.

Second, it would be hard to spin the loss of Lancastria and thousands of lives as anything other than a terrible tragedy. And Churchill's considered view was that the British people could not take another disaster.

France had capitulated. Britain stood alone, facing a real possibility of invasion by Hitler's forces. The nation needed to be strong for the battle that lay ahead. He could not put at risk the boost in morale he had forged out of Dunkirk.

Churchill ordered a news blackout on this 'frightful incident', as he called the sinking of the Lancastria, and the newspapers, governed by wartime emergency regulations, complied.

In his memoirs after the war, Churchill wrote: 'I forbade its publication. I had intended to release the news a few days later, but events crowded upon so black and so quickly that I forgot to lift it, and it was some years before the knowledge of this horror became public.'

This statement has led many people to believe that the fate of the Lancastria remained a shameful state secret. It is an allegation still repeated.

But Churchill was wrong in his recollection. The news was suppressed for five-and-a-half weeks and was then reported fully in every national newspaper.

Admittedly, it took the emergence of the story in a New York paper to put it on the British front pages, but on the front pages it most certainly was on July 26, and with a photograph of the doomed liner moments before she sank.

'Tommies trapped in sinking Lancastria met death with a song,' was the headline in the Daily Herald. Later, in the House of Commons, MPs questioned the government on why the news had been withheld, and this was reported, too. Churchill ordered a news blackout of the 'incident'

If the sinking of the Lancastria was a grand cover-up, it turned out to be a pretty inept and wholly unsuccessful one.

It is also said that survivors were ordered on pain of court martial not to talk about the sinking. But was this different from any other wartime operation? For security reasons, military personnel were always restricted in what they could speak openly about.

In recent years, campaigners have battled to get more official recognition for both the victims and the survivors, and they have a case. But some seem convinced that the cover-up goes on and there are mutterings of official files closed for 100 years and dark secrets about the Lancastria yet to be disclosed.

The National Archives, meanwhile, insist convincingly that all the files have now been opened to public scrutiny. Either way, the key fact remains. The loss of the Lancastria may not be one of the best-remembered moments of World War II, but it was certainly one of the most tragic. It should not be forgotten.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

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18 dead, 98 hurt in Tunisia train collision with lorry

At least 18 people were killed and 98 injured today when a train hit a lorry and derailed at a level crossing in one of Tunisia's worst railway disasters, officials said.

Most of the dead were passengers on the morning rush hour train which hit the lorry in the village of Tabika, around 60 kilometres south of Tunis, the transport ministry said.

"We received the bodies of 17 people," said Riadh Khlifi, director of El Fahes hospital a few kilometres from the accident scene, "and another dead person was sent to Zaghouan hospital".

He added that among the 98 hurt, three were in a critical condition and had been sent to the capital for treatment.

The interior ministry said the train had been en route to Tunis from Gaafour, 120 kilometres to the southwest.

The collision happened at around 6:30 am (0530 GMT).

Transport Minister Mahmoud Ben Romdhane said the accident happened because there was no barrier at the crossing, but this was disputed by the Tunisian National Railway Co (SNCFT).

"The main cause of the accident is the non-existence of a barrier... and protection at the crossing," he told radio station Shems-FM.

"In Tunisia, there are 1,150 rail crossings. Only 250 are equipped with signal posts and barriers and only 150 have lights. This is insufficient."

But SNCFT spokesman Hassen Miaad told Tunisian radio there was "a stop sign and a railway crossing sign at the level crossing".

Train crashes are common in Tunisia, where much of the rail network is dilapidated, but Tuesday's accident was the deadliest in recent memory.

The presidency said it had called for an inquiry "to determine the cause of this catastrophe".

Witnesses spoke of mangled wreckage at the scene and dead bodies strewn across the tracks.

"A very loud noise woke me up. At first I thought it was an earthquake but then I saw this overturned truck and the bodies. Two bodies had their legs ripped off," local resident Habib Fayedh told AFP.

The lorry driver, originally reported to have been killed, survived the collision and was questioned by police before being taken to hospital, Fayedh said.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

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Relatives claim 2 more bodies still trapped in gutted Kentex factory

Although almost all of the victims in May 13 Valenzuela City fire have been identified, relatives sought help from authorities to find two more missing workers of Kentex Manufacturing Inc. believed to have been trapped inside the footwear factory.

Apart from the 72 individuals in the initial death toll, there were reportedly two more workers who died in the inferno after the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory received information that the local government of Valenzuela was told of the unretrieved bodies by relatives, according to deputy director Senior Superintendent Emmanuel Aranas.

At the sidelines of the ceremonial opening of Automated Fingerprint Identification System in Camp Crame on Wednesday, Aranas said crime laboratory representatives would return to the site to find the bodies.

“The relatives sought help from the City Social Welfare and Development Office. The information was then relayed to the Crime Laboratory,” said Aranas. Aranas said the bodies might be trapped under the roof of the building that fell on the factory floor during the fire.

“From the start, alam naming hindi sarado sa 72 ang death toll kaso hindi namin mapasok ‘yung ilalim ng roof kasi delikado,” he said in a phone interview with

But Aranas said it would be “risky” for the search team to lift the roof due to fragile and crumbling floors.

Less than a month after the tragedy, police have identified 71 out of 72 casualties in the seven-hour fire in Barangay (village) Ugong factory. The fire was said to have started when sparks from a welding work ignited highly flammable materials stored inside the factory.

Most of the victims were identified through DNA testing. The crime laboratory gathered specimen from the victims’ relatives through a buccal swab of the mouth.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

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Tbilisi flood death toll climbs to 19

The bodies of two more victims of the Tbilisi flood have been found this evening, bringing the death toll to 19.

One of the bodies was found in Mziuri Park in central Tbilisi and the other was recovered from River Mtkvari in Gardabani district, 39km south of the capital.

None of these two bodies have been identified yet.

Meanwhile the 17th then-unidentified victim found earlier this evening in Mziuri Park was now identified as Davit Gabitashvili, 40.

Authorities said six more people are still missing.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

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Dozens of migrants dying in Sahara desert trying to reach Europe

A total of 33 migrants have died in the Sahara desert in Niger while en route to Europe this year, including 18 found dehydrated last week near a road to the border with Algeria, the government of Niger said on Tuesday.

International assessments, however, have put the number closer to 50. Many thousands attempt to cross the vast and inhospitable terrain in order to reach the Libyan coast, where they hope to begin another hazardous trip by boat to Europe.

Six foreigners were found dead near a road between Agadez and the Libyan border on 12 May, while nine were found dead on 2 June and four more are missing on a road to Libya, the interior ministry said.

“The use of unsecured routes and the refusal to take military convoys is always at the origin of these tragedies,” its statement said.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday 30 migrants had been found dead in the Sahara near Dirkou in Niger on Monday, bringing to 48 the number of bodies recovered in the country this year.

In a separate case, the bodies of 18 migrants were discovered on Sunday near Arlit, a route to Algeria, the IOM said.

It is likely given reports from migrants and others that far more than 48 migrants have died in Niger’s desert this year, said an IOM spokesman, Joel Millman.

“We know that traffickers are increasing in the area through the desert to Libya. We believe that there has been an undercount [of the dead] because of the remoteness and the difficulty of patrolling,” he said.

While the figures differ, both offer a glimpse into what migration experts say is a hidden tragedy in the Sahara.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

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