Saturday, 25 July 2015

Two days after Kullu bus accident, body of woman pilgrim found in Larji dam

Two days after a private bus from Punjab fell into the Parbati river in Kullu, the body of a woman pilgrim travelling in it was recovered from Larji dam, 40 km downstream from here. Thirty-five pilgrims and the bus, PB-19 M-3085, are still missing.

A daylong frantic search on Friday yielded little as only one body was recovered and the bus wreckage couldn’t be found.

Kullu deputy commissioner Rakesh Kanwar told Hindustan Times on Saturday that rescue teams had been deployed at five locations to trace the missing victims, all of them pilgrims from Barnala, Bathinda, Anandpur Sahib and Mansa districts of Punjab.

Nine bodies were retrieved till Friday, while one was recovered on Saturday morning from Larji dam, where the Mandi district administration has set up a control room to fish out bodies of the victims washed away after the bus fell into the river.

“The National Disaster Response Force team has been deployed at the accident site near Sarsari village on the Bhunter-Manikaran road. Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel are conducting a search at Jiya, where the Beas and its tributary Parbati meet 15 km downstream from the accident site. Seema Suraksha Bal personnel are deployed at Jhiri, Aut and Larji on the 40-km stretch,” Kanwar said.

Over 600 personnel of the National Disaster Response Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Sashastra Seema Bal, Bhakra Beas Management Board, police and the home guard have been engaged in the search operation from the accident spot to Bhuntar along the banks of the Beas up to Larji and Pandoh Dam.

The dam gates have been shut to prevent the bodies flowing downstream. A general alert has been sounded in the twin districts, asking people to keep immediately inform the administration in case any body is spotted on river banks.

At least 23 persons, including the driver and the conductor, were rescued and admitted to a hospital in Kullu on Thursday. Four seriously injured persons had been referred to PGI, Chandigarh, said Kullu Deputy Commissioner Rakesh Kanwar, adding the efforts were on to locate the bus wreckage as the possibility of the bodies trapped inside it were high. The 52-seater private bus was packed to capacity with 67 passengers.

“All 19 injured victims have been discharged from the regional hospital in Kullu. The bodies of nine victims have also been handed over to their families,” the deputy commissioner said.

The bus met with the accident in Sarsari village on the Bhuntar-Manikaran road, some eight km from Bhuntar.

Kullu’s Deputy Commissioner Rakesh Kanwar told IANS that a massive search operation was continuing for the remaining victims.

He said the focus of the search operation was to locate bodies trapped under boulders on the 10-15 km-long downstream stretch of the river from the accident spot.

Most of the bodies, officials said, were either trapped under rocks or buried in the riverbed silt.

A team of the National Disaster Response Force also reached the spot to locate the missing people.

“Our rescue workers are basically facing problem of poor visibility. The river bed is full of mud and silt. There are also big boulders and rocks,” an official said.

Meanwhile, family members of the missing people have reached the accident site.

Some of the relatives were apprehensive that the bodies might wash away 20-30 km further as the river stretch is narrow downwards and the current is strong.

This is the second major accident involving tourists in Himachal Pradesh in a little over a year.

Twenty four students of a Hyderabad-based institute and a tour operator were washed away in the Beas river in Mandi district on June 8 last year when water was released into the river without warning from a nearby hydropower project.

It took almost a month to retrieve all the bodies from the river.

Saturday 25 July 2015

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Anonymous migrant graves deserve humane policy solution

A year ago, a Globe investigation exposed in stark detail the lack of an established process for families of relatives who have disappeared while attempting to cross the US-Mexico border illegally. But little progress has been made since then, and many of the missing are never found, or end up buried anonymously in public graves.

The lack of recourse for families of the hundreds who have died after crossing the border begs for a humane solution. Federal authorities must strengthen policies to mandate consistent identification of the dead. To allow anonymous mass graves on American soil is cruel to families and denies the basic human right that every individual deserves a degree of dignity — no matter where they come from or how they died.

The growing body count of migrants underscores the treacherous journey of crossing the border into the United States. Chief Deputy Sheriff Benny Martinez of Brooks County, Texas, testified before Congress earlier this year that his department has recovered bodies of those who crossed illegally at a rate of about six per month over the past six-and-a-half years.

The humanitarian dilemma has not gone unnoticed, but it still demands new rules and federal assistance to create a reliable identification system. A consortium of forensic experts formed the Reuniting Families Project (RFP) to assist in efforts to identify bodies of migrants, some of whom had been buried by the county in public cemeteries without having a DNA sample taken as required by law. The group has been unearthing public graves of migrants near the border since 2003. Since 2013, RFP has exhumed more than 120 bodies of unidentified border crossers.

Many law enforcement officers and ranch owners in Brooks County have repeatedly called for increased awareness and more resources to manage the sickening status quo, insisting it is not about the politics of immigration, but essentially a human rights issue. “If dead human beings don’t catch your attention, what the hell else is going to? We’re just trying to be human about it,” a local rancher told the Associated Press.

Humanity toward deceased unidentified migrant border-crossers needs to be codified in law enforcement circles, as the Globe’s report made clear. East Boston resident Maria Interiano’s brother went missing two summers ago as he crossed the border illegally into Texas. It was a heartbreaking tale of dead ends as Maria tried to find out what happened to him — she didn’t even know there is a federal database, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, where her brother’s DNA profile could be found. Local law enforcement agencies are also sometimes reluctant to investigate when it’s unclear if the disappearance occurred in their jurisdiction.

Migrants should never be buried in US soil without consistent, codified efforts to identify them. The ongoing pressure at the US-Mexico border — along with beefed-up security — guarantees that there will be more extreme and dangerous efforts to cross into the United States, and certainly more tragic deaths. Federal and local authorities must work together to stop unnecessary suffering for families in the aftermath.

Saturday 25 July 2015

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Germanwings crash victims remembered in French Alps memorial ceremony

Four months to the day since Germanwings Flight 4U9525 crashed in the French Alps, relatives and friends have gathered at a memorial ceremony near the crash site. Compensation for victims' families remains unsettled.

More than 300 people in the quaint French town of Le Vernet remembered the 150 people who died on March 24 when their flight from Barcelona to D├╝sseldorf crashed in the French Alps outside the town.

Authorities who examined cockpit voice and data recorders from Germanwings Flight 4U9525 concluded that 27-year-old German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who had a history of severe depression, appeared to have intentionally crashed the plane.

Around half of the crash victims were German, among whom where 16 high school students and two teachers who had been on a school exchange trip in Spain. Other passengers came from Spain, Britain, Denmark, Australia, the US, Israel, Mexico, Columbia, Argentina, Japan and the Netherlands. 'Sense to life'

Guests attended an interfaith ceremony on Friday at the memorial stone that was erected shortly after the crash, before releasing 149 balloons over the mountain range, each one representing a crash victim, not including Lubitz.

"Now the relatives must find a sense to their lives again," Rabbi Daniel Dahan said at the service.

At a separate ceremony on Thursday evening, the remains of victims who were unable to be identified were laid to rest in a communal grave. Germanwings memorial in Le Vernet, France

The bodies of people were able to be identified by French police were returned to the countries of origin in June.

According to Steffen Rudolph, the ombudsman for relatives of the victims appointed by the German government, all but one of the 150 victims' bodies have been repatriated.

It's difficult for the families - "a grave still exists here, there are over 3,000 remains buried here," aviation attorney Christof Wellens said. Intentional crash

At the end of Friday's ceremony, the mayor of Prads-Haute-Bleone, Bernard Bartolini, said the disaster remains present in the mountainous region. "We owe this place to the relatives," Bartolini said, adding that plans were already in place for a second memorial.

"We want neither a massive press furor, nor a big spectacle," he said. "It shouldn't become some kind of Disneyland." Compensation row

Taking a backseat to the memorial on Friday was the ongoing public row between Lufthansa and lawyers representing the victims' relatives over the amount of compensation each family will receive.

The airline has offered around 100,000 euros ($109,000) per family on average, depending on family size. After a total of 75,000 euros per family unit, Lufthansa also agreed to pay an additional 10,000 euros to each immediate relative, including parents, children and spouses.

Despite demands from lawyers for 200,000 euros per family, the airline has insisted that its offer goes "well beyond" what it is legally bound to pay.

Saturday 25 July 2015

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Pakistan floods: Death toll rises as more bodies recovered

Twenty-four more people were killed today as floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains inundated northern Pakistan, raising the overall death toll in the flooding to 46.

The rescuers recovered 24 more bodies from the deluged Chitral district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, police said.

The already inundated district has been lashed with heavy rainfall since Sunday, which have swept away roads and bridges, cutting away remote areas from the district headquarters.

It prompted the Pakistani government to dispatch troops there to rescue those trapped by the flooding. The army says it is using helicopters to evacuate people from remote villages.

The district's Mor Kahu area is the worst-hit where around seven villages have been swept away. It has been already cut off from rest of the district and there are reports of shortages of food and medicines.

The overall death toll due to flooding in the country has climbed to 46 nationwide, police said.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan and Chief Minister Pervez Khattak had yesterday visited Chitral and inspected the damages caused to the infrastructure.

The Prime Minister has announced Rs 500 million aid relief package for those affected in the district besides Rs 5 lakh for each destroyed house as compensation and waiving of the agriculture loans.

National Disaster Management Authority said that in the largest province of Punjab, 366 villages and over 2,00,000 people were affected, while crops on 2,05,366 acres of land were damaged.

The latest spell of rains, which started on Friday, is likely to continue for another two days in Pakistan, according to officials.

Saturday 25 July 2015

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