Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Katrina's unclaimed dead conjure memories of her ravages

A decade after one of the most deadly storms in U.S history, Hurricane Katrina's forgotten victims lie in 83 caskets entombed in black granite mausoleums behind the gothic gates of a New Orleans cemetery. Their visitors are mostly tourists.

Each metal coffin is marked with serial numbers inside and out, should anyone ever seek to bring one of them home. The names of 30 remain a mystery, but authorities have recorded details about their DNA and where each was found.

The unclaimed bodies were laid to rest in 2008, three years after the storm killed 1,833 along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

On Saturday, 10 years to the day after Katrina's devastating landfall in Louisiana, city dignitaries will gather at the burial site, known as the Hurricane Katrina Memorial. Viewed from above, it resembles the shape of a hurricane.

"Nobody has ever come searching for their loved one in the memorial, as far as I know," said Dr. Frank Minyard, the longtime coroner of Orleans Parish, who helped to build the monument before retiring last year.

The stories of those buried inside remain unknown despite the exhaustive efforts of coroners who conducted autopsies on some 900 bodies recovered from around greater New Orleans.

The local coroner's office was washed away in the flooding that submerged 80 percent of the city after Katrina's storm surge overwhelmed the local flood protections.

Bodies were taken by the hundreds to a warehouse without air-conditioning in St. Gabriel, Louisiana, outside Baton Rouge. As they worked under heat lamps, dehydrating medical examiners searched for ways to identify them.

By then, many were badly decomposed, and animals had removed fingers that might have provided crucial prints, recalled Dr. Louis Cataldie, the former coroner of East Baton Rouge Parish, who was appointed to oversee the statewide remains recovery effort.

Still, a rewards card from Winn-Dixie supermarkets on one man's keychain led them to his relatives, who recognised the rings he was wearing.

An elderly woman, found wearing slippers with holes cut around her little toes, was brought back to family members who remembered how she snipped her shoes to accommodate arthritis.

Yet some people could never be identified by examiners who pored over unusual tattoos, bone fractures and teeth that were compared to dental X-rays recovered from mouldy basement storage.

"The mission wasn't completed," Cataldie said. "If there was one person that wasn't identified, it would still bother me."

After several months, Cataldie's team returned to the city the unclaimed bodies from New Orleans, where they were stored in another warehouse. Minyard, the coroner, wanted the bodies buried in a place where they could be easily retrieved, if anyone ever wanted one of them.

He worked with community leaders and local funeral home owners, who were troubled by talk of a mass burial or cremation, to raise more than $1 million in public and private funding for the memorial graves.

"It was just a little heartless at that point," said Sandra Rhodes-Duncan, one of the leaders of the nonprofit that built the memorial and member of a family that has run a local funeral home for more than a century.

"You always have something to represent somebody's life," she added.

In August 2008, funeral homes donated more than 30 hearses to carry the unclaimed victims to their final resting place, in what was formerly the Charity Hospital Cemetery.

At the cemetery, a red rose was placed on each casket, carried by volunteer pall bearers. Each victim was interred in individual graves within the mausoleums.

Each year since, a graveside ceremony has been held to mark the anniversary of Katrina.

At last year's ceremony, Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, current coroner of Orleans Parish, spoke of the victims at a service marked by a clarinet's sombre notes.

"They sit in silent watch," he said. "They sit in silent judgment."

Tuesday 25 August 2015


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Cyprus begins recovery of wreckage of military plane and human remains 41 years after its crash

Cypriot authorities have started recovering the debris of a Greek military transport plane 41 years after it crashed, an official said on Monday.

Crews started an excavation of a man-made earth hill last week in search for the debris of the French-built Noratlas transport plane, which was shot down by friendly fire as it approached for landing at the now defunct Nicosia airport during the 1974 war between Cyprus and Turkey.

"Digging crews have recovered a wing of the plane and also smaller pieces, including a fuel gauge. We believe they are not far away from the main target of the digging which is the main part of the fuselage," Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs Photis Photiou told the state radio.

Authorities believe that inside the fuselage are the remains of up to 19 Greek commandos who were killed in the crash.

They were part of a battalion which was being transported to Cyprus to reinforce the Cypriot National Guard as it was facing much superior Turkish troops who landed on the eastern Mediterranean island on July 20, 1974, in reaction to a coup by Greek army officers a week earlier.

A total of 15 Noratlas transport planes, built circa 1950, were involved in the clandestine operation.

Thirteen of the planes which took off from Crete made it to Cyprus, one landed in Rhodes and one returned to Crete.

Due to bad communications and battle confusion, the last one of the planes was fired at by Greek Cypriot soldiers at dawn on July 22, 1974. It crashed about 1 kilometer from the runaway, killing all but one of the 32 commandos and crew.

Twelve bodies were recovered at the time, but the rest were buried under a mound of earth along with the debris of the plane and the crash-site was turned into a Tomb for the Fallen and a military cemetery.

Relatives of two of the other 19 commandos applied to the European Court of Human Rights demanding the return of their remains and the Cypriot government accepted an out of court settlement to try to recover the remains.

Cypriot authorities have enlisted the assistance of an expert from Australia specializing in digging in war related sites, in search of the debris and the remains of the soldiers.

"They have to proceed carefully and at slow pace as there is information that explosives were carried in the plane and they may have not exploded," said Photiou.

The only survivor of the crash, Thanasis Zefiriou, was at hand when the excavation started.

He said he managed to pry the plane door open before it was completely engulfed in flames and jumped out. He was later found unconscious by National Guard soldiers and taken to hospital.

The recovery operation is expected to be completed by November.

Relatives of the missing commandos have provided DNA to identify any remains found on the crash site.

A total of about 1,000 people, most of them Greek Cypriots, are still missing since the 1974 fighting, which ended in Turkish troops occupying about 37 per cent of Cyprus territory.

United Nations brokered negotiations for the reunification of the island are currently under way.

Tuesday 25 August 2015


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Death toll in China's Tianjin blast rises to 129

The death toll from a series of explosions nearly two weeks ago that rocked the northern port city of Tianjin has risen to 129.

There are still 44 people missing and 610 are in hospital, 39 of them critically injured, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing local officials.

The explosions at a hazardous goods storage facility on August 12 triggered a giant fireball and new fires broke out as recently as Friday.

China's powerful State Council, or cabinet, has vowed to conduct a "rigorous" investigation into the cause of the explosions, Xinhua said Saturday.

The owners of the hazardous goods storage company at the centre of the incident, Rui Hai International Logistics, reportedly included the son of a former police chief who used his connections to help the company obtain the necessary permits and pass inspections.

The blasts have also sparked fears of toxic pollutants contaminating the air and water of the city, which has a population of about 15 million people.

Two blasts ripped through a warehouse storing dangerous chemicals in China's Tianjin Port around 11.30 pm on 12 August.

Personnel are cleaning up the site while investigators look into the cause of the incident.

Tuesday 25 August 2015


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Search resumes for 12 missing Philippine miners

Rescue teams on Monday resumed their search for the 12 miners reported missing after landslides cascaded down their shanties in Benguet province in the Cordillera Administrative Region in the Northern Luzon highlands at the height of typhoon Goni, according to officials State weathermen also reported that Goni (local codename Ineng) already left the country after ravaging extreme Northern Luzon that forced thousands of people to flee their homes due to floods, making major roads impassable as well as felling down trees and power lines.

Benguet Governor Nestor Fongwan said relatively good weather prevailed over the area on Monday after several days of heavy rain and strong winds that prevented the rescue teams from proceeding to a remote mountain village in the town of Mankayan where the 12 missing miners were believed trapped by landslides and mudslides.

The 12 were among the 16 miners reported missing but four were confirmed dead when the teams retrieved their bodies from the site on Saturday, Fongwan said amid fears the rest were also killed when their shanties were buried by the landslides.

Meanwhile, police on Monday reported that four other small-scale miners succumbed to gas poisoning in the town of Itogon also in Benguet.

Police said the bodies of the victims were already recovered from a tunnel but clarified their death was not related to the devastation wrought by Goni (Korean word for swan) on Benguet and other provinces in Northern Luzon.

Tuesday 25 August 2015


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No new victims found when plane that crashed at UK airshow lifted

No new victims were located Monday after the wreckage of a vintage jet plane that crashed on a highway was lifted, police in England said.

Up to 200 people have raised concerns over missing friends or relatives since the Shoreham tragedy, police have said.

Officers revealed they have been deluged with calls after Saturday's plane crash.

"Our estimate of 11 highly likely victims remains in place," Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry said. "However, until we have fully completed the search of what is an extensive scene, I must caution that there is still the possibility that we may discover evidence of further victims."

The plane crashed Saturday while performing at an airshow at Shoreham Airport in southeastern England. It struck the busy A27 highway, killing at least 11 motorists on the road and injuring at least 14 people.

Authorities said the pilot -- who was, against all odds, pulled from the wreckage alive -- is in a coma.

"Andrew Hill remains in critical condition," police said in a statement released on behalf of Hill's family. "He has multiple injuries and is in a medically induced coma."

The jet wreckage will be transported to Farnborough for examination and vehicles and debris will be removed from the highway," Barry said.

"After that there will a second phase of checking that we have accounted for all the victims and this will be followed by a thorough finger tip search of the area to ensure that we have recovered all of the forensic evidence," he said.

Sussex police announced at a news conference Sunday that it was "highly likely" 11 people had been killed.

The identification process is requiring the help of the victims' next of kin. Authorities resumed the search for more possible victims two days after the military jet plunged from the sky and crashed onto the busy highway.

Meanwhile, people raised questions about whether an aerobatics show should have been held over a highway. The A27, running along parts of England's south coast, parallel to the English Channel, is among Britain's busiest.

Sue Grimstone, from Brighton, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that the death of her son, Matthew, who was 23, had been "a waste."

"Air shows should be over the sea," she said. "It should never have been over that road." All of those known to have died were on the A27.

Some people took to social media in an attempt to find missing loved ones

Tuesday 25 August 2015


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