Saturday, 8 August 2015

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.

Hundreds of people who have died crossing the southern border are buried without ceremony, casket, or name.

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 8 August 2015

continue reading

Bodies of helicopter crash victims sent to Rawalpindi

Rescue officials recovered the bodies of all the victims of Thursday’s military chopper crash and shifted them to CHM Abbottabad for DNA tests, police said on Friday.

At least 12 people, including two crew members and a medical team, were killed when a MI-17 helicopter crashed on the hilly range of Koh-e-Bhaingra near Mohar village in Lassan Nawab area on Thursday afternoon.

“It hovered over Lassan for a few seconds before exploding on the hill”, a resident of the Mohar village Dilawar said.

He believes that the pilot failed to judge the foggy weather on the hilltop, home to a thick forest.

Khwas, another resident of the same village, explained that although the crashing site was a three-hour walk away, the villagers reached for the rescue late by which time the helicopter had burnt.

The villagers, he said, were later joined by military troops and police personnel and after a 12-hour operation they recovered the bodies. Saturday 8 August 2015

continue reading

Ukraine buries unidentified soldiers months after eastern battle

Ukraine buried on Friday 57 soldiers still unidentified up to a year after being killed in the eastern separatist conflict, highlighting the difficulties the country faces moving on from one of its deadliest military defeats.

Mournful chants drifted over the graves of the nameless soldiers, most of whom fell in the battle of Ilovaisk last August after Ukrainian forces found themselves encircled, outgunned, and vastly outnumbered by Russian-backed rebels.

Authorities have spent months trying to identify the bodies and find relatives, but without success.

"It's horrible to think that somewhere their parents are waiting for them, their children, brothers, sisters," said local resident Olga Bondarenko, who had come to pay her respects at the cemetery in the south-eastern region of Zaporizhzhya.

Hundreds of soldiers are believed to have been killed in the encounter, but official figures are much lower.

Government efforts to recover bodies were hampered by the fact they lay in separatist-held territory.

Afterwards an unwillingness from relatives to undergo DNA testing also held up the process, news agency Interfax Ukraine quoted regional military official Oleksander Beda as saying.

"Until the end they hope that their loved ones, who were missing in action, were alive and either captured or in hospital ... You can understand them - hope dies last of all," he was quoted as saying.

In October, a parliamentary report on Ilovaisk listed a series of military mistakes and concluded that "the causes of the ... tragedy are fundamental problems in the organization of the country's system of defense".

It said it was not able to establish the true number of casualties due to a lack of data from the Ministry of Defence and General Staff.

More than 6,500 soldiers, separatists and civilians have been killed since fighting between Ukrainian troops and rebels seeking independence from Kiev erupted in April 2014, according to United Nations estimates.

Violence has continued despite a ceasefire deal signed in February with both sides accusing the other of violations. Sixteen servicemen have been killed by shelling or landmine explosions since the start of August, while 29 were killed on the frontline in July.

"To think that this could happen to our country, to our boys," Bondarenko said, her voice choking with tears.

Clouds of red dust rose into the air as soldiers shoveled earth into the graves, each marked with a plain cross and a plaque inscribed with the words: "Unknown soldier."

Saturday 8 august 2015

continue reading

SS Eastland disaster: An unequaled disaster

July 24 marked the 100th anniversary of the death of the Eastland. The Eastland was, without question, the greatest disaster of all Great Lakes shipwrecks with anywhere from 800 to 1,100 casualties, although recent historians estimate approximately 844 deaths.

Source material for the tragedy of the Eastland is abundant. One cannot name any histories of the Great Lakes that do not mention the Eastland and do not recognize it as the greatest of tragedies on the Great Lakes.

For once in our accountings of Great Lakes shipwrecks, the weather, the waves or collisions were not responsible for the wreck of the Eastland.

In fact, according to Mark Bourrie’s “Many a Midnight Ship,” the seeds for the Eastland disaster were planted as she was under construction. This was a doomed ship before she saw any service. Subsequent attempts to improve the Eastland only contributed to her doomsday scenario.

The Eastland was built as a freight and passenger carrier. She was constructed at the Sidney Jenks shipyard and was launched in 1903. She was 265 feet long and had a breadth of 38 feet.

The Jenks shipyard, according to Bourrie, had very little experience building vessels that would carry passengers. That observation was also confirmed by Benjamin J. Shelak in “Shipwrecks of Lake Michigan,” who noted the four-deck passenger ship was the only one produced by this shipyard.

From the beginning the Eastland’s design flaws pointed to an eventual disaster. There were plenty of warnings. Ignored but significant were two very severe listing events in 1904 and in 1906.

The 1904 event involved a roll to starboard of approximately 20-25 degrees before the ship rolled back. 3,000 passengers were aboard and dozens complained to the newspapers and the ship owners. Both incidents resulted in mandates to reduce passenger loads.

The owners responded to the criticisms by taking out newspaper advertisements offering a reward of $5,000 to the person who could demonstrate the Eastland was unsafe. In so doing, the owners ignored the warnings of marine engineer William Wood who had worked on the Eastland and was aware of problems with the ship’s equilibrium.

Early in the day of July 24, 1915, all people could think about was the beautiful day on Lake Michigan and how fortunate they and their families would be to ride across the blue waters of Lake Michigan to the beaches near Michigan City, Indiana.

The Western Electric Co. had arranged an excursion for its employees aboard the Eastland. The company subsidy enabled their workers to purchase tickets for 75 cents.

Historical accounts, including Dwight Boyer’s “True Tales of the Great Lakes,” document numerous complaints by workers that they felt pressured by possible job loss if they did not purchase tickets. These complaints were probably well-founded, but it appears the vast majority of passengers were truly looking forward to a beautiful day with their families on a beautiful lake.

As the Eastland had her lines slipped and was under tow by a tug, she immediately began to list badly and then tipped over in the river. Hundreds were thrown from the decks to their deaths. Hundreds more were simply crushed on the river bottom by the big ship now lying on its side. Hundreds more drowned as they were trapped below the waterline.

Nothing could express the horror of the day’s events better than the many photographs found in Boyer’s book, of the faces of the rescuers and survivors as they struggled to find more bodies. The nightmarish events were accentuated by the bodies of little children, still in their Sunday clothes, being carried off to makeshift morgues.

The tipping over of the Eastland and the events leading up to the disaster suggested serious problems with metacentric height, essentially the ship’s center of gravity and the equilibrium between the distribution of weight onboard. In other words, on a flawed ship like the Eastland, the weight shift by passengers moving, in mass from one side of the ship to the other, might well be enough for the ship to lose equilibrium.

But let’s not blame the passengers. They were hardworking families from tight knit ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago. They were workers, looking forward to a beautiful day’s excursion with their families on Lake Michigan, a break from the toils and tedium of the workplace.

They were human beings who paid the ultimate price for the dishonesty, the greed, and the willful ignorance of the ship owners and their enablers, the corrupt bureaucrats.

That price amounted to the greatest loss of life in a single shipwreck on the Great Lakes, a loss that has never been approached by any subsequent shipwreck in the past 100 years.

Given the circumstances, there is every reason to believe the death toll of the Eastland will never be equaled again.

Saturday 8 August 2015

continue reading

Harda train accident: One more body found, toll rises to 30

One more body was recovered on Friday, taking the toll in twin-train tragedy near Harda station to 30. The dead, identified as Shobhnath Pasi, 55, was a native of Badka Dela village in Phoolpur tehsil of Uttar Pradesh's Allahabad district. Pasi, who was working in a powerloom in Mumbai, was travelling from Mumbai to Allahabad in Kamanyani Express's general bogie.

Shobhnath Pasi, 55, was a resident of Badka Dela village under Phoolpur tehsil of Uttar Pradesh's Allahabad district. Pasi was living in Mumbai and working in a powerloom factory. He was travelling from Mumbai to Allahabad in Kamanyani Express's general bogie when the accident took place.

"His son Rakesh Pasi, who came to Harda after hearing about the incident, identified him," Harda SP Prem Babu Sharma told TOI. "13 passengers are still missing and rescue operations are underway," he said.

Sources said the toll may cross 40. If they were alive, they could have been traced by now or would have approached family members.

Kin of 25 people have lodged missing complaints about their near and dear up to Friday. Of these, eight people were identified from the bodies sent to Bhopal and four were found alive in Harda, but the whereabouts of remaining 13 could not be traced so far.

District police have launched a 24x7 helpdesk at Harda railway station to provide information to kin of those missing.

On Friday, rescue operations by state disaster relief force, national disaster relief force and local administration continued. Officials said relief work would continue for next couple of days. Derailed bogies and debris are yet to be removed from the accident site.

Several passengers were trapped in two bogies of Janata Express perilously hanging while three wrecked compartments telescoped into the Kamayani Express. The accident took place near Mandla village under Khirkiya tehsil of Harda district.

Mumbai lad recounts harrowing experience at mortuary

Mumbai resident Ajay Patel's family members were taken out dead from the wreckage of Janata Express by rescue workers at Harda. Four bodies wrapped in sheets, tossed on the slush at the tragedy site for identification and then stuffed into an ambulance van to Bhopal, where it was shoved into a frigid morgue. Sixty hours later, Ajay, who is just out of high school, is struggling to get custody of the bodies for performing last rites. It was a traumatic journey from Kalyan railway station, where he first heard the tragic news to a roller-coaster ride to Harda ground zero and then a harrowing experience at the morgue at Hamidia Hospital, Bhopal.

Ajay only had a fleeting glimpse of his parent's decomposed bodies. He cringed as he pointed out to mortuary officials that they were his own. Now, he's still waiting to get custody of the bodies for funeral. With no coordination between police, doctors and railway officials, many like Ajay are getting trapped in red tape of babudom.

"I was waiting at Kalyan railway station to receive my parents, aunt and cousin. It was then that I heard about the accident. I dialled the helpline number and heard the shocking news. I did not know much about Harda or Bhopal. I and my uncle headed for Harda in a taxi as trains were diverted. We scoured photographs of the dead put up at notice board at Harda railway station and then reached Bhopal. I waited at BMHRC morgue for three hours and still didn't get the bodies. I spent sleepless night in the open at the hospital campus. In the morning, we were told, the bodies were taken to another hospital for autopsy," he said.

Since Friday morning, Ajay is waiting outside mortuary at Gandhi Medical College for the autopsy to end. "There's nobody to lend a helping hand. There's so much red tape even after a national tragedy," he said. His parents, Baliram, 47, Hari Bai, 44, aunt, Shashi, 35 and cousin Satyam, 11, died after the coach in which they were travelling sank into the swollen Machak river after two trains derailed on the bridge.

Ajay is eldest in the family and his two younger siblings, brother Vikas, 16 and sister Manju, 18, are in Kalyan, Mumbai, still unaware of what has happened.

The bodies were taken out of GMC Hospital after autopsy late afternoon and Ajay hired two hearses for railway station.

Ajay's is not the only sordid tale. Families of victims are having a tough time dealing with administration as officials of Railways and district administration are not in sync. Arman Shah, who lost his elder brother, Ramzan Shah, 23, had to also struggle to get the autopsy done and take the body home. Two railway officials, including ticket examiners, were also present at the hospital on Friday. "What we can do? Police and doctors do not listen to us. Railway brass should take note of the situation," they said.

Kamayani Express, headed for Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh from Mumbai, derailed near Harda town, 160 km south of Bhopal, shortly before midnight. The Janata Express, en route to Mumbai from Patna, too derailed at the same spot minutes later. A total of 30 bodies have been recovered so far, besides, at least 13 passengers are still missing.

Saturday 8 August 2015

continue reading