Saturday, 19 September 2015

Chile Earthquake Death Toll Up to 13, Several Missing

The death toll from the powerful earthquake that struck Chile earlier this week has gone up to 13, while the number of missing people stands at six, Chilean Deputy Interior Secretary Mahmud Aleuy said.

The number of missing people stands at six, Aleuy told reporters on Friday.

Earlier figures put the death toll at 12.

An 8.3-magnitude earthquake hit Chile’s central Coquimbo Region, located about 500 kilometers (310 miles) from the capital Santiago, on Wednesday evening.

Chile’s National Office of Emergency of the Interior Ministry (ONEMI) put the quake’s magnitude at 8.4, issuing a nation-wide red alert and requesting an evacuation of Chile’s entire national coastline.

The earthquake triggered Pacific-wide tsunami waves and about one million people were evacuated from Pacific coastal areas.

The highest tsunami observed in Chile were in Coquimbo, where three waves were recorded to be at least 4 meters (13 feet). Hundreds of homes in Chile were declared uninhabitable or destroyed following the earthquake and the tsunami.

The highest tsunami observed outside Chile were in French Polynesia.

Few dead thanks to fortified buildings and alerts

Parts of this port city were a disaster zone Thursday after an 8.3-magnitude quake hit off the coast, killing at least 13 people and likely causing billions in damage. Overturned cars and splintered boats sat in mud next to furniture, toppled adobe homes and fishing nets tangled in trees.

The most stunning thing about Wednesday night's earthquake, however, may be the relatively low amount of havoc caused by such a powerful shake.

While the quake led more than 1 million to evacuate coastal areas and no doubt caused much anxiety, seismologists said Chile's heavy investment in structural reinforcement of buildings and constant refinement of its tsunami alert system helped prevent what would have been a catastrophe in less prepared nations.

"Chile has good codes and good compliance, which together have reduced the vulnerabilities of their building stock over the decades," said Richard Olson, director of Florida International University's Extreme Events Institute. "I would rather be there in one of their cities than in many other countries in an earthquake."

Living in one of the world's most seismically active places, the Andean nation's 17 million people have little choice but become experts in earthquakes. The strongest earthquake ever recorded happened in Chile: a magnitude-9.5 tremor in 1960 that killed more than 5,000 people.

After another major earthquake in 1985, authorities began implementing strict construction codes similar to those used for highly seismic regions in the United States such as California, said Kishor Jaiswal, a civil engineer with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Most buildings in urban areas of Chile are designed to withstand both the vertical forces of gravity and the horizontal jolts that an earthquake inflicts. Building methods in many other developing countries can withstand gravity and wind but have limited resistance against very strong earthquakes.

Wednesday's quake struck just offshore in the Pacific at 7:54 p.m. and was centered about 141 miles (228 kilometers) north-northwest of Santiago. The quake was 7.4 miles (12 kilometers) below the surface.

It lasted a nerve-shattering three minutes, swayed buildings in the capital, Santiago, and prompting authorities to issue a tsunami warning for the country's entire Pacific coast. People sought safety in the streets of inland cities, while others along the shore took to their cars to race to higher ground. Several coastal towns were flooded from small tsunami waves.

Interior Minister Jorge Burgos said Thursday night that the death toll stood at 12 and five people were listed as missing.

Fortified constructions were evident in Coquimbo, a city that was one of the closest to the epicenter. While adobe houses and some small concrete structures collapsed, the vast majority of buildings were intact.

A small area of the city, which neighbors La Serena, was covered in mud left by inrushing waves. Boats and cars were overturned, and dead fish were mixed in with debris.

"It looks like a war zone here," said Marcelo Leyea, a mechanic carrying a duffel bag with tools he was able to salvage from his collapsed shop. "But we were more prepared than during the 2010 earthquake."

Even fortified infrastructure didn't prevent a high death toll in 2010, when a magnitude-8.8 quake in south-central Chile killed more than 500 people, destroyed 220,000 homes and washed away docks, riverfronts and seaside resorts.

To be sure, the 2010 quake was 5.6 times more powerful in terms of energy released, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. And while the 2010 quake hit in the middle of the night, Wednesday's tremor hit during an evening when many Chileans were outside for barbecues and other celebrations ahead of the country's Independence Day on Friday.

People were also more prepared. Schools increasingly have earthquake drills and society is filled with creative solutions to quakes, such as restaurant owners who nail wood railings to shelves to keep glasses and liquor from crashing down.

Many argue, however, that the biggest problem in 2010 was human error. That quake hit just 11 days before the end of President Michelle Bachelet's first term and the government's national emergency office failed to issue a tsunami warning to evacuate the coast after the quake struck near the southern city of Concepcion.

Bachelet and emergency officials made no such mistakes Wednesday, issuing tsunami alerts soon after the quake hit and keeping them in effect until after 6 a.m. Thursday.

Classes across the country were canceled for Thursday, a measure aimed to keep people from putting themselves at risk.

Residents said they received evacuation orders on their cellphones minutes after the quake hit.

"The alerts worked well. We had enough time" to evacuate before the tsunami waves came, said Patricio Farria, a fisherman whose shop close to the coast was wrecked. "Two people died here, but there could have been many more. I think Bachelet learned her lesson."

"Everyone who felt Wednesday's earthquake had the experience of 2010," said Paulina Gonzalez, a civil engineer who teaches building design for earthquakes at the University of Chile in Santiago. "Many went to higher ground even before the official evacuation alerts."

Saturday 19 September 2015

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Death toll rises to 183 after South Sudan fuel tanker explosion

At least 186 people are now thought have been killed and even more injured in an oil tanker explosion in South Sudan this week, the government said on Friday.

The incident occurred on Wednesday on a road some 250km west of the capital Juba, close to the small town of Maridi, with the victims including locals who tried to scoop up the fuel spill.

"According to the reports that we received, the death toll is 186. The number of injured is bigger than that. We are unable to ascertain the actual number up to now," South Sudan's Information Minister Michael Makuei told reporters, confirming earlier reports that at least 150 were dead.

"That is a very unfortunate situation," he said, adding President Salva Kiir had declared three days of national mourning.

"All the flags are expected to be at half mast with effect from today. The president and the government extend heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims," he added.

Local media reports said doctors were struggling to cope with limited supplies to treat severe burns, including a lack of painkillers.

The local government director of Maridi, John Saki, told South Sudan's Gurtong news site that about a thousand people crowded around the tanker to gather fuel after it crashed on the roadside, with many coming from a nearby school.

Mass grave for victims

Those visiting the wounded in the hugely overstretched hospital in Maridi described horrific scenes.

"Some people are burned all [over their] legs, some the hands, some the whole body, the back," one witness told Radio Tamazuj. "They look like a white person."

Fuel leaks and oil tanker accidents in Africa often draw huge crowds scrambling to scoop up the fuel, resulting in many deaths due to accidental fires.

One of the worst such accidents was in Nigeria in 1998, when over 1,000 people died in the southeastern Delta State when a pipeline exploded as people tried to steal fuel.

Radio Tamazuj said dozens of bodies were burned beyond recognition and were being buried in a mass grave.

South Sudan is in the grip of a dire economic crisis sparked by over 21 months of civil war, which has caused rampant inflation and soaring prices of basics, including food and fuel.

South Sudan is the world's youngest nation, having gained independence from Khartoum in 2011. It descended into civil war in December 2013 when President Kiir accused Riek Machar, his former deputy and now a rebel leader, of planning a coup.

The violence has left tens of thousands of people dead and the impoverished country split along ethnic lines.

Over two million people have fled their homes in a war marked by gang rapes and the use of child soldiers.

The government and rebels signed a peace deal on August 29, but the ceasefire - the eighth agreed - has been repeatedly broken.

Saturday 19 September 2015

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Remains of 1974 plane crash in Cypriot recovered

Cypriot authorities said on Friday that the remains of several victims of a plane crash 41 years ago have been recovered from the crash site. The crashed plane was a French-built Nord Noratlas transporter of the Greek Air Force shot down by friendly fire in the dark hours of July 22, 1974, as it was flying in reinforcements for the Cypriot National Guard which was facing a large Turkish force trying to capture Nicosia airport.

Turkey occupied the northern part of Cyprus in the fighting, in response to a coup by Greek junta army officers. Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs Fotis Fotiou said a large number of human bones has been found, but could not say to how many people they belonged, reports Xinhua. The Noratlas flight was part of a plan to transport a battalion of commandos from Crete to Cyprus. Only one of the 32 people aboard the plane survived the crash, which happened a short distance from the airport runaway.

Twelve bodies were recovered at the time, but the remaining 19 were covered over with earth because of the proximity to the fighting. The place was later turned into a military cemetery for thousands of Greek Cypriots killed in the fighting and a monument for the fallen was erected over the crash site. ”The difficult task of scientific identification of the bones will get under way within the next few days. We hope we will be able to put an end to the uncertainty of the relatives of the dead people,” Fotiou said.

Saturday 19 September 2015

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DNA Samples Of Next-of-kin Of 2 Missing Malaysian Pilgrims Handed To Saudi Authorities

DNA samples of the next-of-kin of two Malaysian pilgrims who are still missing after a crane collapsed on the Grand Mosque here on Sept 11, have been handed over to the Saudi authorities to facilitate identification of bodies at the Muaissem mortuary in Mina.

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki said the next-of-kin of the missing pilgrims arrived in Jeddah at 6.15pm yesterday and were taken to the mortuary to obtain their specimen samples.

"The process of matching the remains with the DNA will take between two and three weeks, three of them (the next-of-kin) will be here until the process is completed," he told reporters here Saturday.

Five Malaysian pilgrims were killed in the crane tragedy which also claimed over 100 lives.

Asyraf Wajdi arrived here yesterday, to help expedite the search process for the missing duo, apart from ensuring the smooth running of the haj pilgrimage of the Malaysian pilgrims.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom and Tabung Haji chairman Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim were also here since Monday until yesterday, to ensure the smooth flow of funerals for the pilgrims who were killed, apart from giving special attention to the injured pilgrims, as well as moral support to the other pilgrims.

"Many things have been settled by the minister (Jamil Khir) and so far, Malaysia is the only country that had sent a minister to manage the haj pilgrims involved in the tragedy," said Asyraf Wajdi.

Jamil Khir was reported as saying there were seven bags containing body parts of pilgrims and the Saudi authorities had already conducted the DNA test on the parts.

Saturday 19 September 2015

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