Saturday, 4 July 2015

A combination of factors blamed for mass deaths during Pakistan heatwave

A deadly combination of factors, including poor urban planning, a crippled energy infrastructure, climate change, Ramadan, and freak weather conditions, has led to the unprecedented deaths of more than a thousand people in a Pakistani heat wave.

More than 65,000 people suffered heatstroke during the two-week heat wave, which started on June 19 and has just subsided — the majority of which were in Karachi, the country's largest city. The total number of dead is around 1,300, according to the provincial government of Sindh, where Karachi is located.

The number of bodies was so high and the heat so intense that morgues ran out of space and bodies had to be buried without being identified.

The temperature in Karachi hit the second highest ever recorded — 109 degrees Fahrenheit. Compounding that was the mysterious cessation of a breeze that usually flows in from the Arabian Sea coast, thanks to low pressure out at sea, which has been blamed on climate change.

Dr. Muhammad Hanif, the director of the national weather office Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), told VICE News that recent weather in Karachi had been "extraordinarily hot," like nothing ever seen before.

"Along the coastline the sea wind normally blows for 10 months, which keeps Karachi weather more moderate, but this year in June, a hot month, suddenly the sea wind stopped," he said. "This was really dangerous and alarming, and we have no idea why this happened."

It could be because of global warming, said Hanif, which has had a major impact in Pakistan over the last 10 years. "In the past 10 years the winter season was reduced from 115 days to 80 and the hot weather season was extended from 150 days to 180," he said. "It is a major change in the ecosystem which means in future the nation may face more heat waves like Karachi or the storm in Peshawar in April which left 44 dead."

The heat wave disproportionately affected Pakistan's poorest residents, many of whom work outside and are unable to take days off regardless of weather conditions or sickness. The homeless face even greater risks.

Anwar Kazmi, spokesman for the major Pakistani charity Edhi Foundation, said the organization had buried 150 unidentified bodies. Officials believe many of them were homeless.

"An unidentified body is generally kept at the morgue for at least 20 days, but because of the overwhelming inflow at the facility and the condition of the bodies, the deceased are being buried sooner," said Kazmi. "We [had] a space crunch in the Edhi morgue [and] a shortage of rescue workers who [could] prepare dead bodies for a funeral."

Karachi cemetery worker Gul Pasha outlined burial issues while speaking to VICE News.

"Due to the sudden and high number of dead in Karachi, people are facing problems [organizing] funeral prayers and also in finding space for the graves," he said.

The Edhi Foundation's Karachi director Mohammed Bilal told the BBC he had never seen so many people suffering heatstroke in 25 years working as a charity worker transporting casualties. "The bodies just kept coming from all over the city," he said. "Over... eight days, we received 900 bodies. We had to turn away so many families," he said.

Most of those who died or were treated for heatstroke were people who were fasting for Ramadan, said Jawaid Shaikh, a doctor at Karachi's Civil Hospital. The heat wave started two days after the start of Islam's holy month, during which Muslims do not consume food or water from dawn to dusk.

Various religious leaders appeared on media urging people to break the fast if they felt unwell. "We [religious scholars] have highlighted on various television channels that those who are at risk, especially in Karachi where there is a very serious situation, should abstain from fasting," prominent Islamic cleric Tahir Ashrafi told Australian news network ABC.

Environment expert and activist Major Abid Hussain said that the number of deaths was avoidable, even with the extreme weather occurring during Ramadan. He blamed the government and Pakistan's failing energy network.

"Karachi is a bad example of unplanned construction which lacks basic facilities," he said. "So then when people suffer from heat stroke it causes so many deaths. It is alarming and the Pakistani government and people need to learn from this disaster and take sufficient steps to meet the challenge of climate change."

Environment expect Moazam Khan from the World Wide Fund for Nature said the government and energy companies were to blame. "This disaster is due to the lack of ability to respond [adequately]," he claimed. His mother, aged 61, died from heat stroke "despite of all facilities available in my home. My air conditioning wasn't working due to the lack of electricity," he said.

Pakistan has suffered massive electricity shortages for years, with blackouts and load shedding — where the electricity supply is deliberately cut off in certain areas to avoid a total system shutdown during periods of high demand — have become common. But turning off electricity during a heat wave can be fatal, because it cuts off fans, AC, and medical facilities.

Even before power outages, many hospitals in Pakistan are desperately overstretched and lacking in basic facilities. Khan added that the huge influx in extra patients during the heat wave had left Karachi's hospitals unable to cope.

Abdual Salam's brother Adbudal Kram, 50, died of heat stroke. Salam said his brother was fasting "and suddenly he became unconscious. We took him to the nearby hospital, where I saw a terrible situation. The hospital didn't have enough facilities to treat the patients."

Another man, Imran Khan, told VICE News that everyone was suffering in his Karachi neighborhood. His whole family had become ill when the electricity was cut off, he said.

"The fan was not available for many hours in our home. My sister died and my brother Naseer Khan is being treated and still suffering," he said.

Sindh's provincial government was criticized for responding very slowly to the unfolding crisis, reported the BBC. But it in turn blamed the federal government and Karachi's private electricity company, K-Electric, for cutting off power during the crisis.

A K-Electric spokesman told VICE News that "due to the increase in consumption there was a failure of electricity in Karachi." Electricity had now been restored, he said.

The PMD has warned that a fresh heat wave is likely to hit Karachi next week. Temperatures are expected to again reach 107 to 109 degrees.

Touseef Alam, former chief meteorologist of the PMD in Karachi, told VICE News "the intensity of the fresh heat wave could be similar to the prevailing one. Relief efforts should continue with the same pace even if the city receives rain."

Saturday 4 July 2015

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Nepal: ICRC presents TUTH morgue refrigerator for additional body storage

The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) has handed over an external refrigerator unit to the Tribhuvan University’s Forensic Medicine Department.

Deputy Head of ICRC Delegation in Nepal Alfredo Mallet handed over the facility to Dean at the Institute of Medicine of Tribhuvan University Prof Dr Rakesh Kumar Shrivastav amid a function on Friday.

“It is a serious matter how the bodies are dealt, as it can have a profound impact and long-lasting effect on the mental health of survivors and communities. Proper identification of a dead body significantly reduces the anxiety of the deceased person’s relatives,” Mallet said.

The new facility provided by the ICRC, with support from the Japanese Red Cross Society, now doubles the storage capacity of bodies of the TU Teaching Hospital which has been overwhelmed by a high number of bodies being brought in for examination and identification daily.

Saturday 4 July 2015

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India: Mira-Bhayander’s forests a dumping zone for bodies

The long isolated stretches with forested areas on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad national highway and Ghodbunder Road is turning into a 'dumping zone for bodies of people killed.

While the killers dump the bodies confident that the murder will remain unsolved, almost 95 per cent of the cases have been cracked by the cops. The body of Franshela Vaz (8), a resident of Airoli was dumped in the jungles of Gaimukh on the Ghodbunder Road in Thane on June 29. The killer Clarence Fonseca, the victim's uncle was arrested on Friday.

"We have been patrolling on the isolated stretches of the national highway but it is practically impossible to keep a watch on such a huge zone," said Mira-Bhayander Deputy Superintendent of Police (DYSP) Suhas Bawche. He said that the killer dumps the body in isolated areas to avoid being caught, but end up leaving behind some clues.

The forested stretch on the national highway begins from Dahisar and stretches to Gujarat and Indore. Instances of dumping bodies takes place along the highway.

Beheaded and decomposed bodies are discovered by locals and tribals who venture into the dense forests. The process of identifying a body takes a while, by which time the killer thinks he/she has gone scot free, said a police officer. The identification of the body becomes difficult due to its decomposing nature. However, once the body is identified, nabbing the criminal is just a matter of time, say the cops.

In most cases, the killer randomly chooses the spot where the body is to dumped. While few of the killers nabbed had prior knowledge about the topography of the location, in most cases, the murderer simply dumped the body in whichever isolated location the killer first discovered, said a police officer.

The bodies are dumped in the wee hours and in most cases, the murderer is confused about the spot where the body was dumped. In the Airoli case, police said that Fonseca was picked up from his Mira Road home on Thursday but it took him several hours to find the exact spot where he had dumped the body.

Saturday 4 July 2015

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Flashback: DC3 crashes in Kaimai Ranges in 1963

The sound of 23 deaths was like the distant closing of a door.

Flight 441, on a slow jaunt from Auckland to Wellington, had slammed into a rock wall in the Kaimai ranges at 140kmh, exploded, and tumbled down the rock face.

All on board on July 3, 1963 - 52 years ago - died.

It was and remains the deadliest plane crash on New Zealand soil.

Norman Morris was among the dead.

On the 50th anniversary of the accident, his daughter Joanne Fitzsimmons remembered the day she returned from school to find her mother waiting at the gate.

She was five years old and the weather was awful.

"I can remember going inside and seeing all these worried faces and concern.

"The plane was only missing at that point and all we could do was sit around the radio and listen and wait."

She was too young to attend the funeral.

National Airways Corporation (NAC) flight 441 had taken off from Whenuapai airport in north-west Auckland at 8.05am that morning.

The DC3 - a veteran of World War II - was scheduled to stop at Tauranga, Gisborne, Napier, and Palmerston North, before eventually arriving in Wellington in the early afternoon.

It was an era when people dressed up for air travel.

Their best clothes would soon be scattered among wreckage.

At 9.06am Tauranga air traffic control was in contact as the plane began its descent.

Workers at a quarry at Gordon, between Te Aroha and Matamata, heard it pass low overhead.

Then there was the sound, compared to a door banging shut far away.

Bad weather and rough terrain meant it was almost 48 hours before the plane was found.

The impact and fire was so bad that a pathologist was needed to identify the charred, blackened remains ot the 20 passengers and three crew.

An investigation into the crash found that while weather in Auckland and Tauranga that day was not too bad there was an easterly gusting to 150kmh between the two.

In zero-visibility, with dodgy radio compasses, the pilots were effectively flying blind.

Pilot Len Enchmarch and first officer Peter Kissel likely thought they tracking down the eastern slopes of the Kaimai ranges but they were in fact further west.

Investigators came to the conclusion the plane was descending and turning for its run into Tauranga but got caught in powerful down draughts and got slammed into the rock face.

Tauranga air traffic control called again at 9.14am - eight minutes after the first call - but there was no reply. There was effectively no plane.

Apart from the 23 dead, the crash would go down in New Zealand aviation history as the first time helicopters were used in a search and recover operation in this country.

Aviation historian Richard Waugh, who has written a book on the tragedy, said news of the crash dominated newspaper front pages for about five days.

New Zealand's post-war optimism was shattered by "this great tragedy" in a normally reliable DC3 being flown by our national carrier.

"It really was quite appalling. It just literally hit a rock face."

In recent years he has clambered to the crash site.

He drove most of the way but the last few kilometres were a steep and wintry walk almost 1km above sea level. The final descent was down ropes.

The fuselage was gutted in 1963 but the wings were flung free.

The bodies have long since been removed but the rugged terrain meant some wreckage remains, some buried in deep undergrowth, to this day.

For 15 years it was New Zealand's worst air disaster.

That record was shattered when Air New Zealand flight TE901 slammed into the side of Antarctica's Mt Erebus, leaving a smudge in the snow and 257 dead.

That day, November 28, 1979, flight 441 became our worst ever air disaster on domestic soil, Waugh said.

"Hopefully that will be the case for a long, long, long time."

New Zealand's Worst Air Disasters

Nov 28, 1979 - Air New Zealand DC10 crashes on Mt Erebus in Antarctica, killing all 257 passengers and crew.

July 3, 1963 - NAC DC3 crashes in the Kaimai Ranges, 23 dead.

Mar 18, 1949 - NAC Lodestar crashes on approach to Paraparaumu, 15 dead.

1942 - Liberator bomber crashes near Whenuapai, 14 dead.

Aug 21, 1944 - Two Lockheed Hudson bombers disappear, 14 dead.

Oct 23, 1948 - NAC Lockheed Electra crashes on Mt Ruapehu, killing 13.

Jan 7, 2012 - 11 die when a hot air balloon plunges to the ground in flames near Carterton. Two who died tried to leap to safety.

Aug 8, 1989 - Britten-Normander Islander crashes between Milford Sound and Wanaka, 10 dead.

May 12, 1988 - Piper crashes into hills near Whanganui, killing nine.

Oct 25, 1993 - Nomad 23 crashes near Franz Josef Glacier, nine dead.

Sep 4, 2010 - Fletcher FU24 crash kills nine people near the Fox Glacier airstrip.

Saturday 4 July 2015

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ICMP joins forces with missing persons organization CADHAC in Mexico

From 8 to 11 June, ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger and Deputy Director of Forensic Sciences Adi Rizvic were in Monterrey, the capital of the state of Nuevo Leon in northern Mexico, to take part in a series of activities with the NGO, Citizens in Support for Human Rights (CADHAC).

CADHAC was founded in 1993 to help people who have been wrongfully imprisoned, and to offer assistance to families of the disappeared. It has developed an innovative operating method that brings together families of victims, civil society and the authorities. Over the last 20 years, CADHAC has been able to change the way the issue of the missing is viewed in Nuevo Leon – by the police, prosecutors, judicial authorities and the general public – and as a result more systematic and effective ways of investigating disappearances and prosecuting those responsible have been introduced.

Since 2014, ICMP and CADHAC have been preparing a missing persons initiative together with family groups and other NGOs and the Attorney General’s office in Nuevo Leon. During the June visit CADHAC and ICMP reviewed ways to cooperate in promoting the development of institutional capacities and activities that will sustain cooperation among government agencies, civil society and families of the missing in Nuevo Leon.

Ms Bomberger and Mr Rizvic participated in workshops to discuss the design and application of a database that will bring together all relevant information on missing persons (including genetic data). This database approach has been crucial in ICMP’s successful efforts to help the authorities in other countries account for large numbers of missing persons. ICMP’s unique Identification Data Management System (iDMS) can be adapted for use in different countries and circumstances. Both CADHAC and ICMP have developed an approach that stresses the need to empower families of the missing so that they can make their case effectively to the political authorities. ICMP has consistently argued that missing persons cases – including those involving very large numbers of people – must be viewed in a rule-of-law rather than a strictly humanitarian context, which means focusing energy on investigating disappearances and ensuring access to justice for the families of the missing.

Speaking at a press conference in Nuevo Leon, Ms Bomberger said the Mexican authorities could derive a number of benefits from cooperation with ICMP. “We have the experience and capacity to assist countries in identifying thousands of missing persons cases, and we maintain the highest standards of data protection.” She stressed that tackling the missing persons issue is not simply a case of comparing genetic data: it is a complex challenge that requires a complex solution. “Enforced disappearance has political, economic and emotional aspects; it’s not just a matter of establishing a laboratory for genetic identification. You have to facilitate identification and at the same time you have to secure the rights to justice and truth, and that means engaging the state.”

Ms Bomberger and CADHAC’s Director, Sister Consuelo Morales, expressed the hope that a successful missing persons pilot initiative in Nuevo Leon can establish operating procedures that could be applied throughout Mexico.

The need for such a process has been repeatedly pointed up in gruesome fashion in recent months as Mexico has struggled with a horrific upsurge in enforced disappearances. The abduction of 43 students in the state of Guerrero in September 2014 attracted worldwide attention. The case revealed a culture of close cooperation between the local political establishment and criminal gangs, apparently with the connivance of police. It has been viewed as a microcosm: more than 26,000 persons are estimated to have disappeared in Mexico in the last decade.

The treaty signed in Brussels last December, which granted ICMP the legal and administrative status of an International Organization in its own right, means that it now has greater latitude to operate in different parts of the world. “I believe ICMP’s cooperation with CADHAC in Mexico can establish a pattern that can be applied in other countries,” Ms Bomberger said. She added that ICMP is developing an online database function that will make it possible to register and process missing persons information from multiple geographical sources.

Saturday 4 July 2015

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Funerals of 136 Bosnian victims to mark anniversary

This year’s 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre will be marked by the burial of 136 victims identified over the past year, an official said on Friday.

The Institute for Missing Persons said 160 corpses from the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb paramilitaries had been identified since last year’s July 11 anniversary.

The youngest is a 16-year-old boy of mixed Muslim-Serb parentage whose body was recovered from a secondary mass grave. The remains of 17 other under-18s have been identified.

“We have formally identified 136 victims, whose families have declared that they want the remains to be buried on July 11 this year... the identified persons are ready for the collective funeral on July 11," institute spokeswoman Lejla Cengic told Anadolu Agency.

They will be interred at Potocari memorial center.

The families of 24 victims are waiting to bury their loved ones as not all their remains have been found.

In the summer of 1995 Srebrenica was overrun by troops led by Ratko Mladic, currently on trial at The Hague for ordering the killings. Dutch UN peacekeepers watched on as Serb troops herded men and boys from the town to be murdered.

Since the end of the war, hundreds of Bosniak families have searched for missing relatives, most of who were buried in mass graves around the country.

A total of 6,166 Srebrenica victims have been buried at Potocari and a further 230 are buried outside the town.

Friday 3 July 2015

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New mass grave found for victims of NWA Flight 2501

Sixty-five years ago, the worst tragedy in aviation history at that time happened along the shores of Lake Michigan. Northwest Orient Flight 2501 crashed somewhere off the coast of South Haven, killing all 58 souls on board.

Despite efforts by dive crews and sonar experts from (NUMA) National Underwater and Marine Agencyand the (MSRA) Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates, no wreckage of the plane has ever been recovered, and no official cause for the crash has ever been determined.

But an interesting discovery by a cemetery sexton has guaranteed that many of the victims lost in this tragedy will never be forgotten.

The plane crash happened June 23, 1950. Northwest Airlines Flight 2501 was departing La Guardia Airport in New York, preparing for a stop in Minneapolis, Minnesota, before heading to its final destination of Seattle, Washington.

Severe storms were developing over Lake Michigan as Flight 2501 exited the shoreline somewhere between Glenn, Michigan, and South Haven, Michigan.

Sometime after midnight on June 24, 1950, all communication with Flight 2501 was lost, as was with the aircraft itself.

In the days after the crash, the United States Coast Guard began recovery efforts. What they found floating on the water's surface, and washing ashore, was gruesome. No full human bodies were found – only chunks of bodies, along with clothing, suit cases, and some Northwest Airlines seat cushions.

The Korean War began within days after the crash, so the country's attention shifted away from this tragedy.

Recovery efforts would end, and decades would pass, before anybody showed renewed interest in attempting to look for the sunken wreckage.

The 65th anniversary of the crash was last month. Even though no victims were from the state of Michigan, the remains recovered were buried in this state. Until recently, the only known mass burial grave site for victims was at Riverview Cemetery in St. Joseph. That site was found in 2008.

Another mass burial site for 2501 crash victims was discovered in 2015 at Lakeview Cemetery in South Haven. It had gone unrecognized for generations, until two ladies working on a genealogy project happened to stumble upon it.

Mary Ann Frazier and her mother, Beverly Smith, say they were spending some downtime looking up family history in one of the cemetery plot registers.

"We were going through the 'N-Book,' looking for something, when we came across it," said Frazier, who serves as the sexton for Lakeview Cemetery in South Haven. "I was like, 'Mom, you have to come look at this; it says – NWA Flight.'"

Smith responded by saying, "I wonder what this means?"

The curious mother-daughter duo wrote down the plot location and decided to visit the burial site to see if it was marked, but when they got there, they realized it wasn't. They immediately realized that victim's remains from this devastating plane crash had literally been forgotten for more than six decades.

"It's totally amazing to me that it is 65 years later and we're just finding this and connecting everything together," said Smith.

razier and Smith researched the plane crash, and quickly learned that Holland author Valerie van Heest had written a book about the ill-fated 2501 entitled Fatal Crossing.

"And I thought, 'Here's the person we can contact to find out more about this,'" added Smith.

"I always wondered what happened to the human remains that washed ashore on the beaches of South Haven," said van Heest, co-founder of (MSRA) Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates based out of Holland, Michigan. "I was disheartened to realize that the burial site has gone unmarked all these years."

Van Heest says after learning of the newly-found mass burial site, she reached out to family members of the 58 victims to let them know of the discovery and also let them know that plans were in the works to place a marker on the site.

During the process of discovering the site, Frazier and Smith also came across another revelation which happened to be much more personal to both of them.

"My great uncle, Joseph Bartnick, was one of the people who actually recovered body parts," said Smith. "When I opened Valerie's book and saw his picture on one of the pages, I wanted to cry for him because he had to be in a position like that."

Through more research, the women learned that Bartnick was on one of the first Coast Guard recovery boats to go out into the lake after the crash.

Van Heest and the two other women contacted St. Joe Monument Works, who graciously donated a stone to be placed above the burial site. The stone was delivered to the cemetery a few days before the 65th anniversary of the crash.

On Wednesday, June 24, 2015, a remembrance service was held at the grave site. South Haven Mayor Robert Burr, along with Craig Rich from the MSRA, read off all of the 58 victims' names. After each name was read, a bell was rung.

Pastor Robert Linstrom, from Trinity Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids, and van Heest each offered separate messages to the more than 50 people who came out to pay their respects.

Near the end of the service, Willis Dotson played taps.

"Fifth-eight people's remains may be buried there," said van Heest. "I feel things are working to put a final closure to this accident."

Van Heest says she's currently wrapping up her 12th consecutive year of scouring the bottom of Lake Michigan, searching for the wreckage of Flight 2501.

She added that her crew recently picked up an interesting target on sonar, and they will soon have divers explore it.

The ultimate hope is that one day the plane will be found, but until that day comes, more victims of the tragedy can rest in peace knowing that after 65 years, they have finally been found.

Currently, there's an exhibit on display at the Michigan Maritime Museumin South Haven dedicated to the crash of Flight 2501.

Friday 3 July 2015

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