Sunday, 27 December 2015

After 11 years, memories of Aceh tsunami live on

Aceh residents gathered on Saturday in a number of venues across the province to send their prayers to the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated the region on that same date, 11 years ago.

At Banda Aceh’s Ulee Lheue mass grave, where more than 14,000 victims of the disaster were buried, local residents alternately visited the area throughout Saturday, to not only pray for the victims, but also to reflect on their stories as survivors.

Many of them also could not hold back their tears as they observed displayed at the grave’s entrance a number of photographs depicting the situation of the region shortly after being hit by the tsunami.

“Time passes quickly, but the sad memory of 11 years ago will always stay with us,” Yenni, a resident of Lambaro Skep subdistrict, told The Jakarta Post.

Despite the atrocious aftermath of the tsunami, Yenni, who lost several family members in the disaster, said she always encouraged herself to move on.

“It is impossible for us to keep mourning all the time, as God still gives us chances to survive,” she said.

Ulee Lheue and Siron Aceh Besar are the two biggest mass graves that the provincial administration dug for tsunami victims. Hundreds of smaller mass graves were also established in other parts of the region.

Like in previous years, Yussi, a Meulaboh resident, used the commemoration of the tsunami tragedy this year to visit several major mass graves in Banda Aceh, as she has no idea about her parents’ whereabouts after the tsunami.

“I don’t know where their bodies were buried. I’m also still hoping that they’re still alive,” she said.

The tremor that measured 8.9 on the Richter scale and the resulting tsunami waves that hit Aceh on Dec. 26, 2004 killed more than 120,000 people and displaced more than 800,000 others.

The disaster, however, also helped end a three-decade separatist conflict that had killed 15,000 people, when the commanders of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) agreed in mid-2005 to a peace accord signed in Helsinki, Finland.

Last year, a massive government-sponsored event to commemmorate the 10th anniversary of the disaster was held in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, with representatives from dozens of donor countries and international organizations attending the event.

This year, apart from smaller events held independently by local residents in mass graveyards or mosques, the Aceh Culture and Tourism Agency also organized a series of additional events, including a photo exhibition, a seminar and an arts performance, to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the tragedy.

The main commemoration, attended by, among others, Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah and Banda Aceh Mayor Illiza Saaduddin Djamal, meanwhile, took place in a mosque in Lampuuk subdistrict. The mosquewas among the few buildings that survived the tsunami.

“In every tsunami commemoration, we are trying to spread certain messages to the public, including self-reflection, appreciation, [disaster] mitigation and [tourism] promotion,” agency head Reza Pahlevi said.

27 December 2015

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Dozens feared dead as another landslide hits Myanmar's jade mines

Dozens of people are feared missing or dead after a landslide hit a jade mining region in Myanmar’s northern Kachin state.

Officials say a search for survivors and bodies is continuing after Friday’s accident in the area around Hpakant.

Last month, 114 people were killed in the same area after a massive landslide.

Jade mining produces piles of waste rock. Migrant workers climb the heaps to search for the gem stone.

Local official Tint Swe Myint told the Bangkok Post that five bodies had already been found.

“According to witnesses, about 50 people are still missing,” he said.

Sai Lon, who works at a mining company in the area, said: “We heard about 50 people were buried in the collapsed dump and four or five bodies were found this morning.”

Local police could not offer any details about the number of casualties.

“We haven’t heard anything from the rescue team yet,” said a duty officer at the Hpakant township police station who declined to give his name to news agency Reuters.

In November’s disaster, many of those killed were people who made their living scavenging on or near the waste dumps left by large-scale industrial mining firms.

The value of jade produced in 2014 alone was £21bn - the equivalent of nearly half of Myanmar’s (Burma’s) GDP - yet hardly any of the money reaches ordinary people.

Deaths in the jade mines, where small-time prospectors and big companies vie for the precious stone, underscore the sector’s lax safety rules and lack of accountability.

Although the United States eased most of the ban on imports from the country when a quasi-civilian government took power in 2011 after five decades of military dictatorship, an American ban on Myanmar jade remains in place over concerns that jade mining benefits military figures and fuels corruption and human rights abuses.

Sunday 27 December 2015

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Nnewi disaster: Relatives lament, search bushes for bodies of missing persons

Following the gas explosion that rocked Nnewi industrial town which plunged residents into mourning when scores of persons were reportedly burnt to ashes, relatives of the victims are now combing bushes near the gas plant for corpses of missing family members.

In Nigeria a huge explosion rocked the district of Nnewi in Anambra State on Christmas eve, when a butane gas depot caught fire leaving more than 100 people dead and several injured. Most of the workers and customers at the fuel depot were burnt beyond recognition.

“My heart and prayers go out to these grieving families at this difficult and painful moment,” said Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari.

Eye witnesses say that the fire in Nigeria raged for several hours before being extinguished. Many customers had gone to the depot to purchase butane gas bottles in preparation for the Christmas festivities.

The dead and injured were taken to the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital in Nnewi.

“The fire burned beyond recognition all the workers who were inside that depot at that time and also all the customers inside that depot,” Chukwuemerie Uduchukwu, who went to the scene.

The ferocity of the blast in Nigeria also damaged houses in the surrounding area. A witness told the Vanguard newspaper that the blast was triggered when a truck began discharging cooking gas without waiting for the mandatory cooling time.

Witnesses described a huge fire with acrid black smoke hanging over the scene of the disaster in Nigeria.

Reports from the scene in Nigeria say that all the customers who went to the gas plant to get a refill were allegedly burnt to death, while some of the victims who were in the neighbourhood and passers-by also got caught in the inferno.

Hon Azubogu said that the accident has made it incumbent on the government to enforce safety standards, stressing the need for regulatory bodies like the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR and similar agencies to ensure that environmental impact assessments are properly carried out before giving licenses to people to set up filling stations.

Some of the relatives of the victims, while speaking with newsmen at the scene, said they decided to search the bushes because they got information that many people ran into it during the explosion.

A staff of Chikason Group, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said workers of the organisation recently concluded a two-week fasting and prayer session after a prophet allegedly warned the Chairman of the group of an impending doom, adding that the unnamed prophet did not specify which of the factories in the group would be affected, a situation that made many members of staff to participate in the prayer sessions.

Last time two of his fully-loaded trucks just disappeared. The vehicles were carrying items running into millions of naira. That one is yet to be resolved and now this fire disaster,” he said

Sunday 27 December 2015

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