Monday, 26 December 2016

Fukushima dad finds remains of daughter, but no closure for 3/11

A man’s painstaking search over nearly six years has finally uncovered remains of his 7-year-old daughter who disappeared in the 2011 tsunami.

But the discovery has not brought closure for the father, Norio Kimura, who plans to keep sifting through the debris on the coast of this town in the shadow of the ruined Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“I am glad, but only small parts of her have been recovered,” said Kimura, 51. “I will continue my search until I find everything.”

A breakthrough in his private search for daughter Yuna came on Dec. 9, when a volunteer found a scarf she was wearing on the day the tsunami struck. It was near the coast only a few hundred meters from where Kimura’s home once stood in Okuma.

A further search of the area uncovered parts of neck and jaw bones among the tsunami debris.

A DNA test conducted by Fukushima prefectural police showed the remains were of Yuna. Kimura was informed of the test result on Dec. 22.

However, he said he still has no intention of submitting a document to officially certify her death until the rest of her body is found.

Yuna was the last resident of Okuma officially listed as missing.

Kimura’s house was located about 4 kilometers south of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and 100 meters from the coast. The tsunami spawned by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, destroyed the home and swept away Yuna, Kimura’s wife, Miyuki, then 37, and his father, Wataro, then 77.

The bodies of Miyuki and Wataro were recovered that year. But Yuna remained missing.

The meltdowns at the nuclear plant forced Kimura to evacuate from Okuma and halt his search for Yuna.

Although the Self-Defense Forces, firefighters, police and volunteers conducted searches along the coast of the Tohoku region, radioactive fallout prevented extensive checks around Okuma in the early days of the recovery effort.

Most parts of the town are still located in the government-designated “difficult-to-return zone” because of high radiation levels. Access is limited to former residents, but only for short periods.

Kimura resumed his personal search for Yuna at the end of 2011, when the government allowed those limited-period returns to Okuma.

After settling in Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture, with his mother and surviving daughter, Kimura frequently made round trips of about 1,000 kilometers in his search for Yuna. He often wore protective clothing against radiation in his endeavor.

Yuna’s remains were found in an area where Kimura discovered a shoe in June 2012 that his daughter was wearing on the day of the disaster.

Kimura said he intends to increase his trips to Okuma and focus his search on the area where Yuna’s bones were discovered.

“I do hold anger toward TEPCO, which caused the nuclear crisis, and the government, which was not committed enough to the body-recovery effort,” Kimura said. “I am mortified that it took nearly six years to find her.”

Sunday 26 December 2016

continue reading

Up to 30 drown after Christmas ferry accident in Uganda

At least 30 people reportedly drowned Christmas Day when their boat overturned on Lake Albert in western Uganda. The victims included members of a local football team and their supporters.

Ugandan police reported on Monday that 21 people are missing and nine bodies have been recovered after a ferry transporting a local football team and their supporters on the way to a game capsized. The ferry was reportedly overloaded and many on the boat were intoxicated.

Ugandan police with the help of local fishermen were able to rescue 15 people. The group was on their way to watch a friendly Christmas Day match in a nearby village.

"There was a party on the boat, the passengers were dancing and others were drunk. The boat was overloaded with 45 people, all members of the football team and local fans," police commander John Rutagira told.

"The water was calm but the problem came in when the merry-making team and fans tilted to one side of the boat. It capsized killing about 30 people," he added.

The majority of ferries used in Uganda are locally-made wooden boats with planks for seating and a small outboard motor. The ferries are often overloaded and passengers are usually not offered life vests.

One of the survivors told the local Daily Monitor newspaper that he survived after swimming for almost an hour to shore.

According to local reports, one of those killed was an 18-year-old woman who went to cheer for her local team. She leaves behind a five-month-old baby.

Fatal accidents are frequent on Ugandan waters. Just three days earlier, a ferry accident on Lake Victoria - which makes up Uganda's southern border - killed 20 people. Last November, 10 people drowned when a ferry capsized on Lake Albert.

Sunday 26 December 2016

continue reading

Russia plane crash: more fragments and bodies pulled from Black Sea

Amid a huge search for Russian military plane which crashed on Sunday, several large fragments and bodies from the jet have been pulled from the Black Sea.

But, initial claims that the jet’s fuselage have been sighted have been denied.

More than 3,500 thousand personnel, including nearly 150 divers are said to be involved in the massive search operation.

Russia’s Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said: “Using acoustic imaging, we have established a radius of about 500 meters in which the wreckage has been spread. The average depth of the fragments is about 30 metres, allowing us to use all the search-and-rescue equipment we have at our disposal”.

Rescue teams had recovered 11 bodies as well as body fragments and flew them Monday to Moscow, where the remains will be identified.

Russia also asked Georgia’s breakaway republic of Abkhazia, which lies 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) east of the Sochi airport, to help look for plane debris or bodies.

The plane came into service in 1983 and Russian officials increasingly think a technical fault or pilot error were behind the accident.

Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said: ‘‘A terrorist act is not being considered to be the most likely cause. We increasingly believe the reason for this disaster was either technical or pilot error.’‘

For the moment, the Syria bound plane’s black box flight recorders have not yet been found. Officials admit locating them will be a challenge as they were not fitted with radio beacons.

The flight was heading to Syria having originated in Moscow. It had landed in Sochi for refueling and disappeared from radar two minutes after taking off from the city’s Adler airport.

The plane was carrying 64 members of Russia’s internationally renowned Alexandrov military music ensemble, who were set to perform for Russian troops in Syria.

Sunday 26 December 2016

continue reading

12 years after Asia tsunami, 400 bodies still unidentified in Thailand

At least 400 victims of Asia’s 2004 tsunami that killed 226,000 people remain unidentified in Thailand 12 years after one of the worst natural disasters in human history.

The 9.15 magnitude December 26 earthquake triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean in one of the biggest natural disasters in history.

Thailand, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka were among the worst hit countries. Some 5,395 people were killed in Thailand, among them about 2,000 foreign tourists.

“Since the 2004 tsunami, authorities have contacted between 4,000 to 5,000 relatives to come and receive bodies. There are about 400 bodies that we cannot identify,” Anand Boonkerkaew, deputy superintendent of Takua Pa district police in Phang Nga province, said.

Thailand’s tourist high season is in full swing and in much of the area affected by the tsunami, it is business as usual. New hotels have replaced those flattened by the wall of water.

The 9.15 magnitude December 26 earthquake triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean in one of the biggest natural disasters in history, with most of the lives lost in Indonesia.

Of the 26 Australians who died in the Boxing Day disaster, 23 were in Thailand.

"Since the 2004 tsunami, authorities have contacted between 4000 to 5000 relatives to come and receive bodies. There are about 400 bodies that we cannot identify," Anand Boonkerkaew, deputy superintendent of Takua Pa district police in Phang Nga province, told Reuters.

Communities in the six tsunami-hit Thai provinces - Phuket, Krabi, Phang-nga, Ranong, Satun and Trang - held commemorative activities such as giving alms to Buddhist monks.

Maitree Kongkraijak, co-ordinator for the Tsunami disaster network representing Ban Nam Khem community in Phang-nga province told DPA commemorative activities had been organised every year since 2005, with this year's events themed Towards Sustainable Development.

Maitree said activities were community-based and locals were encouraged to join evacuation drills and educational activities so they were prepared in case another disaster struck.

In Aceh, thousands of Indonesians prayed for their loved ones at mass graves and mosques Monday to mark the tsunami which devastated the province.

Some 170,000 lives were lost in the country when a the “megathrust” quake struck Aceh, a predominantly Muslim province in the northern tip of Sumatra island, bringing about massive waves that also hit coastal areas as far away as Somalia.

“I came here every year to pray for my children, daughter-in-law, and their three children,” Maryam, who goes by one name, said at the Ulee Lheue mass grave, where 14,800 people were buried.

The bodies of her family were never found but 65-year-old Maryam, who survived by holding on to a tree trunk, was certain her family were buried in the mass grave as they lived in the vicinity at the time of the tsunami.

Graves across the province, including in Siron in Aceh Besar district where more than 46,000 were buried, were crowded with people who scattered flowers on the earth where they believe the remains of their loved ones lie to rest.

Survivors then gathered at a mass prayer in Ulee Lheue mosque, one of the few sea-front mosques still standing in the region after the tsunami.

“The main reason to commemorate the earthquake and tsunami disaster was not to open old wounds,” acting Aceh governor Soedarmo told the mosque attendance.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where the meeting of continental plates causes strong seismic activity, and is frequently hit by earthquakes. The tsunami commemoration comes just weeks after a strong 6.5-magnitude shallow quake struck inland in Pidie Jaya, a district in Aceh, killing more than 100 people, levelling hundreds of buildings and displacing nearly 84,000 people.

Sunday 26 December 2016

continue reading

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Indonesia air force plane crashes, killing all 13 on board

An Indonesian air force Hercules C-130 aeroplane has crashed in remote Papua province in the east of the country, killing everyone on board. Three pilots and 10 other military personnel died, officials say.

Air force chief of staff Agus Supriatna told MetroTV that bad weather was suspected to have caused the crash.

The Hercules was carrying food supplies from Timika to Wamena when it came down in mountainous terrain near to its destination early on Sunday.

The wreckage has been located and the bodies of the dead are being brought to Wamena, Ivan Ahmad Riski Titus, operational director of Indonesia's search and rescue agency, told Reuters.

The flight had left Timika at 05:35 (20:35 GMT Saturday) and was expected to land in Wamena at 06:13.

"The tower in Wamena has spotted the plane, but it was not certain that the plane saw the runway," said deputy air force chief of staff Hadiyan Sumintaatmadja. Personnel from the air force base in Jayapura, the regional capital, were on standby to assist the team at the crash site.

Indonesia has a poor air safety record.

In June 2015, the same type of plane belonging to the country's air force crashed near a residential neighbourhood shortly after taking off from Medan. All 12 crew and 109 passengers on board were killed, along with 22 people on the ground.

Sunday 18 December 2016

continue reading

Sunday, 11 December 2016

At Least 60 killed as church collapses in Nigeria

The roof of the Reigners Bible Church in Uyo, capital of the Akwa Ibom state in Nigeria, collapsed Saturday, killing at least 60 people, and perhaps many more, according to local media and officials.

Some reports put the number much higher, with many people are believed to be still trapped under the debris.

Hundreds of people on Saturday were inside the Reigners Bible Church including Akwa Ibom state governor Udom Emmanuel, who survived the disaster.

The church was still under construction and workers had rushed to complete it for the ordination, witnesses said.

Emmanuel said there would be an investigation into whether safety standards had been compromised.

Pictures from the scene show collapsed metal girders and corrugated iron sheeting.

President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed "deep sorrow" over the incident.

A rescue official initially spoke of 60 bodies recovered from the debris, while the state-run Nigerian News Agency said "between 50 and 200" could have been killed. But a hospital director said on Sunday that at least 160 died in the disaster. The toll could mount as a crane removes the debris.

An unnamed survivor quoted by Nigeria's Channels TV said: "Normal church service was going on."

"It was about 20 minutes after the governor arrived. Suddenly, the roof fell on worshippers. The governor was quickly rescued. But others were not that lucky."

Building collapses are relatively common in Nigeria, mainly due to the use of sub-standard materials and the violation of building regulations.

In 2014, 116 people died when a multi-story guesthouse of the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.

Sunday 11 December 2016

continue reading

Hyderabad building collapse: toll touches 11

The death toll in the under-construction building collapse incident rose to 11 on Saturday with the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) team finding more dead bodies under the rubble.

The six-storied building collapsed like a pack of cards on Thursday night in the busy IT sector of the city, apparently due to structural issues.

A mother and a child were pulled out from the debris on Saturday and were admitted to the Continental Hospital in Gachibowli.

The hospital said that their condition is out of danger. All the deceased belonged to four families living in temporary shelters under the first floor of the building.

Most of the victims belong to Vizianagaram district of Andhra Pradesh, who eke a living as construction labourers in the city.

The Andhra Pradesh government has arranged for free transport of their bodies to their hometowns.

Sunday 11 December 2016

continue reading

ATR-42 crash: Nine victims identified, bodies handed over to heirs

Nine more dead bodies of the victims of the ill-fated PIA plane crash have been identified and handed over to the heirs on Saturday while the relatives of the remaining 38 victims are likely to wait for another few days as the DNA tests would take at least seven to nine days.

A PIA plane carrying 47 people crashed Wednesday on a domestic flight from the mountainous northern city of Chitral to Islamabad, killing all on board.

The plane took off from Chitral around 3:50PM and PIA said the plane crashed at 1642 local time (1142 GMT) in the Havelian area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, about 125 km north of Islamabad.

Talking to Pakistan Today, Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) Administrator Dr Altaf Hussain said that nine dead bodies of the Havelian plane crash victims have been handed over to the heirs after identification.

Dr Altaf made it clear that they would not take rest until the completion of the identification process of the bodies and the process of DNA test would continue even during the weekly holidays because they could feel the agony the relatives of the victims were passing through.

He said that they would not go on weekly and Eid Milad-un-Nabi (SAW) holidays in order to ensure early completion of DNA test so as the bodies of the victims could be handed over to the heirs as soon as possible after identification.

The relatives of Chinese national Han Quiang, who was also among the passengers of the ill-fated plane, arrived on Saturday and the PIA arranged their stay.

He said that Han Wei, brother of Chinese national Han Quiang, gave blood sample for DNA test, adding that relatives of all the victims have given samples of their blood for DNA tests, however relatives of two foreigners Herald Kessler and Herwing Eichelbenger could not reach so far.

Dr Altaf refuted the reports that the blood samples have been sent to other laboratories for DNA tests and added that all the arrangements have been made in PIMS for conducting NDA tests, because the hospital has all the equipment to carry out the tests.

The Safety Investigation Board has formally kicked off its probe into PIA’s plane crash, with authorities expecting outcome of the inquiry not before one-and-a-half month.

Meanwhile, Pakistan International Airline (PIA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Bernd Hildenbrand has said that the national airline was taking all possible steps to facilitate the bereaved families and would ensure that remaining dead bodies are also handed over immediately after their identification process is completed.

Speaking during his visit to Saddha Batolni village in the vicinity of Havelian, where ATR 42 aircraft (AP-BHO) had crashed on December 7, Bernd Hildenbrand said that the PIA has nominated focal persons for coordinating with those families keeping them updated in this regard.

The PIA CEO laid a wreath of flowers at the site and observed one-minute silence in remembrance of the martyrs. He also met with local people of the area and thanked them for promptly helping in rescue efforts.

Sunday 11 December 2016

continue reading

Oil truck fireball kills at least 42 in central Kenya

A fireball from an oil lorry engulfed vehicles on one of Kenya's main highways, killing at least 42 people late on Saturday, a rescue worker at the scene said.

The tanker lorry rammed into vehicles north of the central town of Naivasha then exploded, an official with the National Disaster Management Authority said.

"More bodies are still trapped inside the burned vehicles," Red Cross volunteer Moha Maris told Reuters.

The government gave a lower death toll. "The information that we have is that 13 vehicles were involved and so far we have retrieved 33 bodies," Irungu Nyakera, Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, told a news conference.

The vehicle went out of control while going downhill on the road from the capital of Nairobi to Naivasha late on Saturday, said Mwachi Pius Mwachi, the deputy director and communications officer for the National Disaster Management Unit.

“This is a serious chemical incident,” Mwachi said. “Police and other rescuers are still on the scene … clearing debris.”

Kenya has struggled to reduce the rising number of road accidents as more people acquire vehicles in the country’s growing middle class.

In 2013 the government reintroduced breathalysers to limit accidents blamed on drunk drivers.

According to the National Transport and Safety Authority 1,574 died in road accidents in the first half of 2016 – 86 more deaths than in the same period of 2015.

An official in Naivasha said 50 people were being treated in several hospitals for burns, eight of them in a serious condition.

In 2009, more than 100 people burned to death near the central town of Molo after a lorry carrying petrol caught fire.

Sunday 11 December 2016

continue reading

Sunday, 4 December 2016

At Least 9 Dead, More Missing After Fire During California Warehouse Party

Anxious families were awaiting word Saturday on whether their loved ones had escaped a raging inferno in Oakland, California, after at least nine people were killed during a late-night party at a converted warehouse.

At least two dozen people remained unaccounted for, officials said. "We expect the number of deceased to go up," said Alameda County sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly. "This is a very, very sensitive time."

Emergency responders have had to delicately trudge through the rubble in the search for more victims, Kelly said. He described a twisted mass of beams, wires, and wood that he called a "maze."

During the fire at the building — known as the Oakland Ghost Ship — the roof collapsed onto the second floor where the party was held, and parts of the second floor collapsed onto the first floor, officials said.

Fire Department Operations Chief Mark Hoffman said he saw no evidence of sprinklers. The first floor was an artists' collective made up of divided workspaces that Hoffman described as a "labyrinth."

Recovery crews were pulled out after the structure began to shift and became unsafe but later resumed.

"The building is very, very tricky to work," Kelly said, who expected crews to continue to work for the next 48 hours. "We have water that's still coming down on top of our people. There's beams, there's all sorts of wreckage and debris that we have to maneuver through."

The blaze happened at about 11:24 p.m. PT Friday (2:24 a.m. ET Saturday), while a party was being held in the "warehouse-type structure," Oakland Fire Department Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said. At least 25 people were unaccounted for, she added.

Hospitals received very few injured victims, Kelly said. "It appears that people either made it out, or they didn't make it out," he told reporters.

Most of those who attended the party were in their 20s and 30s, and some were visiting from other countries, officials said, complicating identification efforts.

The building was last designated as a warehouse and did not have permits to serve as either a residence or an event space, Darin Ranelletti, the interim director of Oakland's Planning and Building Department, said.

Ranelletti confirmed his department had opened an investigation into the building Nov. 13 because of reports of blight and illegal construction inside the building. They were able to confirm the reports of blight, but they had not ascertained whether the reports of construction there were credible.

"We had an inspector attempt to enter the building," he said, adding that the inspector had made a visit Nov. 17. "The inspection had not concluded, and it was still underway."

Danica Estrella told NBC News her 32-year-old brother, Brandon Chase Wittenauer, had been at the event and was still missing as of Saturday. The family was calling local hospitals trying to find Wittenauer, who is a full-time musician.

Also among the missing was Feral Pines, an immediate family member confirmed to NBC News. Pines had also been at the event.

Other relatives and friends were posting about their loved ones on Facebook, listing them as either safe or missing to spread the word.

Distraught families gathered at an assistance center set up at the sheriff's substation. Dan Vega, whose brother is missing, told the San Jose Mercury News from the assistance center that the wait for answers was agonizing.

"I have my work boots, I have gloves, I just want to find him," he said.

No smoke alarms went off after the fire, officials said. There were two known exits from the building, Kelly said.

The owner of the building told NBC Bay Area through a family member that they rented the building for the last couple of years but did not regularly communicate with the tenants. The owner said they were "so sorry to hear about the tragedy and those injured and killed," and were trying to figure out what happened, but declined to comment further for legal reasons.

A task force was assembled to investigate the cause of the blaze.

"There's no reason yet to suspect arson, however you have to work these investigations at the worst-case scenario, and then downgrade from there," Kelly said. "Something as simple as a cigarette could cause a fire that could lead to something like this."

Oakland police were looking into the history of the building and its occupancy.

"We're not going to find out all those answers right now. We're very much focused on identifying those who are still missing, locating those who have suffered loss inside who are deceased," said police spokeswoman Johnna Watson.

According to records obtained by NBC Bay Area, the building was already under investigation for structural deficiencies before Friday's fire.

The Oakland Planning and Building Department launched an investigation into the habitability of the warehouse less than a month ago, citing an "illegal interior building structure."

Also in November, a "housing habitability complaint" was filed describing how trash piles up in front of the building, creating a blight in the neighborhood, a search of enforcement records on the Oakland Department of Planning and Building website shows.

Firefighters said "some victims may have been trapped in Friday's fire since they couldn't escape down a makeshift, one-way stairwell leading to the second floor that was built out of wooden pallets," NBC Bay Area reported. Authorities said the pallet stairwell caught fire and was instantly incinerated.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf called the fire an "immense tragedy." She met with a roomful of people who have loved ones who are missing and said she was unable to give them much comfort.

"It is painful to tell them that it will be a considerable amount of time before we can give them the information and the closure that they deserve," she said.

Nine bodies have been recovered and officials are working to identify them, Kelly said, but it is expected more bodies will be found as firefighters access a "maze" of twisted metal, wires and wood fallen on top of each other. Most of the nine bodies found were on the second floor, officials said.

Fingerprints of those found were being rushed for identification, and officials are discussing bringing in cadaver dogs and robots to aid in the search, Kelly said. Many of those at the warehouse were in their 20s and 30s, he said.

"Several dozen people that were thought missing here have been located and are alive," Kelly said. "So that's the good news that we have to offer at this time."

The recovery effort is expected to take at least 48 hours, possibly longer, Kelly said at a 6 p.m. news conference. Excavators will be punching holes into walls to allow access.

The Oakland Athletics tweeted a link for donations for those affected and said it would match donations up to $20,000. The amount was later increased to $30,000.

Sunday 04 December 2016

continue reading

Body remains recovered after Indonesia police plane with 13 disappears

Rescuers in Indonesia have recovered body parts in the sea where a police plane with 13 people aboard is believed to have crashed after takeoff.

The light aircraft lost contact Saturday off the southeast coast of Sumatra island near Singapore. Officials say all 13 aboard, including five crew and eight police passengers, are feared dead.

National Search and Rescue Agency chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo says the M28 Skytruck plane is believed to have plunged into 24-meter (79-feet) deep waters.

He told a news conference Sunday that body remains probably of the victims were found in the area where villagers earlier retrieved a seat and a bag containing a cellphone and police documents.

Indonesian police have confirmed a police aircraft carrying 13 senior officers, including three pilots crashed in waters near Lingga regency, Riau Islands province in Sumatra.

Its Head of Public Relations Boy Rafli Amar, in a media statement here, said the Cassa aircraft departed from Pangkal Pinang at 9.24am and was scheduled to land in Batam at 10.58am. He said when the aircraft did not land, police received reports that it has lost contact with the control centre.

“A search and rescue team has been despatched at the last point the aircraft was detected and found several objects believed to the plane’s parts between Mensanak Island and Sebangka Island and Gentar Island in the Lingga regency waters,” he said.

Police had also received information from the public who found part of the aircraft fuselage and several items belonging to the passengers, including police uniforms, caps and bags scattered at sea.

Sunday 04 December 2016

continue reading

Toll in China's mine blast rises to 32

Thirty-two miners have died in the second coal mine explosion in a week in China, state-run media reports.

The gas explosion hit the mine in Chifeng city in the Inner Mongolia region at midday on Saturday. Out of 181 miners working underground, 149 managed to get out and the rest died, official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The mine was operated by the Baoma Mining Co Ltd., Xinhua said.

News of the blast came just hours after 21 miners who were trapped for four days after an explosion hit their unlicensed coal mine were confirmed dead in northeast China's Heilongjiang province. Four people were arrested in connection with that disaster.

China's mining industry has long been among the world's deadliest, and top work safety regulators have acknowledged that some mines cut corners on safety standards due to financial pressure.

Authorities earlier reported 17 deaths and an undisclosed number of persons still trapped in the mine, but Xinhua reported everyone trapped is now believed to have died. The explosion occurred around noon at a mine operated by the Baoma Mining Co. in the Yuanbaoshan district of Chifeng city, Xinhua reported.

An investigation into what caused the blast is still ongoing, but Xinhua reported Sunday that "It has been confirmed to be a gas explosion accident."

Sunday 04 December 2016

continue reading

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

At least 240 refugees drown in boat disasters in Mediterranean Sea as 2016 death toll passes 4,500

At least 240 refugees have died in 48 hours of boat disasters in the Mediterranean Sea as asylum seekers continue desperate attempts to reach Europe in worsening weather.

Only 15 people survived one sinking off the coast of Libya on Monday, telling rescuers around 135 people who had been packed into their rubber dinghy drowned.

At least 95 others died in a second disaster on Tuesday, with just nine bodies recovered from the water so far, pushing the death toll for 2016 over 4,500.

Survivors of the first sinking arrived on an Italian Coast Guard ship in the Sicilian port of Catania on Wednesday, where they told the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) of their ordeal

“The survivors told us that there were about 150 people on board, so there would be about 135 missing,” spokesperson Iosta Ibba told AFP.

On Tuesday, an oil tanker was dispatched by Italian commanders to another capsized dinghy and rescued 23 of more than 120 people who had set out from Libya.

They were plucked out of the water and transferred to the Aquarius humanitarian ship run by SOS Mediterranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to be taken to Italy.

Jugend Rettet, a German NGO, said its vessel had been recovered dead bodies from the water but the vast majority of refugees killed in boat disasters are never found or identified.

A survivor told a member of SOS Mediterranée staff that the dinghy had begun to sink at 6am, four hours before the tanker arrived.

"We were 122 on the boat, no children under 15, but there were 10 women travelling with us and only one survived,” the survivor was quoted as saying.

"We waited in the water, taking any floating thing to remain afloat, but most of the people drowned, including my little brother. He was 15.

"At 10am the tanker came and rescued us. I want to call home to tell them that my brother died."

People smugglers have continued to launch overcrowded boats from the Libyan coast despite worsening weather conditions, seeing a string of tragedies in recent weeks.

Also on Tuesday, the Aquarius was called to a deflating refugee dinghy off the coast of Libya that had been at sea for 12 hours.

Rescuers arrived to find the boat filled with water and sinking, with panicking refugees jumping into the water including one person who the team could not prevent from drowning.

Five dead bodies were found on the boat and a 10-year-old boy and a woman had to be evacuated by helicopter for emergency medical attention, while 114 survivors were treated for hypothermia, fuel inhalation and chemical burns.

Three children under the age of five, 21 minors and eight women were among the saved passengers.

The refugee crisis has made the passage from Libya to Italy the deadliest in the deadliest in the world, claiming the vast majority of more than 4,300 lives lost in treacherous sea crossings to Europe so far this year.

It is the highest number on record, with analysts warning that EU anti-smuggling missions have driven people smugglers to pack refugees into ever smaller and less seaworthy boats to evade detection.

The Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), a rescue charity, said efforts in the Mediterranean were becoming more challenging than ever, with humanitarian efforts overwhelmed by the changing tactics of smuggling networks.

The group said gangs appeared to be “industrialising” to meet demand as conflict and lawlessness continues in Libya, where asylum seekers report being detained, extorted and tortured before they are forced on to overcrowded boats.

“The combination of heavier loads and inferior quality is a recipe for disaster”, said MOAS head of operations Ian Ruggier. “There is no doubt that the vessels are built to last a few miles to see people beyond Libyan territorial waters.”

The group said the true death toll is almost certainly far higher than the recorded figure as many boat sinkings are feared to be unrecorded, and bodies washed back on to Libya’s shores are not routinely counted.

It is among several humanitarian groups calling on EU countries to provide safe passage for refugees trying to reach safety, such as resettlement programmes and visas, but political will has waned as anti-immigration parties continue to gain popularity.

Charities are additionally warning of dire conditions at overwhelmed reception and detention centres in Italy and Greece, but several nations, including the UK, are not taking part in a quota system for those who have already landed in Europe.

More than 340,200 migrants and asylum seekers have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, with the crossing from Libya becoming the dominant route since the controversial EU-Turkey deal was implemented to stop arrivals over the Aegean Sea.

Around a quarter of those arriving are Syrian, followed by Afghans, Nigerians, Iraqis, Eritreans and other nationalities across Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

continue reading

Friday, 4 November 2016

240 migrants feared dead after boats capsize in the Mediterranean in new refugee disaster

SURVIVORS say as many as 240 people have died in two shipwrecks off Libya, the UN refugee agency reported Thursday, bringing this year’s toll to more than 4220 migrants dead or missing in risky Mediterranean Sea crossings, the highest count on record.

Carlotta Sami, a UNHCR spokeswoman in Italy, said 31 survivors of two shipwrecks who arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa reported that the rubber dinghies they were travelling in had capsized Wednesday in heavy seas shortly after leaving Libya.

The first dinghy — which carried around 140 people, including six children and about 20 women, some pregnant — sank when wooden planks laid at the bottom broke, causing the dinghy to capsize 25 miles (40km) off the Libyan coast, the UNHCR said. Twenty-nine people were rescued, and 12 bodies were recovered.

In a separate operation, two women found swimming at sea told rescuers that 128 other people had died in their wreck.

“I am deeply saddened by another tragedy on the high seas,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. “So many lives could be saved through more resettlement and legal pathways to protection. The Mediterranean is a deadly stretch of sea for refugees and migrants, yet they still see no other option but to risk their lives to cross it.” UNHCR emphasised that the number of dead was an estimate.

International agencies rely heavily on survivor accounts to tally the number of people dead or missing in the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean in smugglers’ boats.

Often the boats sink in high seas, where it is difficult if not impossible to recover any bodies. In both cases reported Thursday, most people on board appeared to have been sub-Saharan Africans.

UNHCR said the increased number of deaths this year is partly due to the fact that smugglers are often using rubber dinghies, which are prone to deflating, capsizing and losing people who fall overboard. In addition, more migrants are arriving with severe burns from being exposed to fuel mixed with sea water in the bottom of the dinghies. Smugglers are using rubber dinghies because they are cheaper and easier to obtain.

According to the IOM, 3777 people were dead or missing as they tried to cross the Mediterranean last year, the previous high.

Friday 4 November 2016

continue reading

30 more bodies pulled from sea in Batam

Rescuers have recovered 30 more bodies from waters around Nongsa Point Marina in Batam, Riau Islands, on Friday morning, bringing the total number of deceased victims in a fatal boat accident in the area to 51. The bodies have been taken to the Riau Islands Police’s Bhayangkara Hospital for identification.

Police spokesperson Adj.Sr.Comr.Erlangga said the remains were seen floating on the sea surface. “The weather today is relatively good compared to the two previous days, enabling the search to run smoothly,” he told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

With the latest operation result, Erlangga said nine people remained missing and relevant authorities would continue their search operations

“The search operation will be conducted until Nov.9 or seven days after the incident. But the emergency period can be extended, depending on the situation on the field. Insya Allah [God willing] we can recover all passengers still missing today,” said Erlangga, adding it had been confirmed that 41 survived the incident.

He said 40 boats provided by several institutions and two helicopters belonging to the Riau Islands Police and the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) were involved in the search operation.

As reported earlier, a boat carrying 98 illegal Indonesian migrant workers and their families and three crew members sank in Nongsa waters early on Wednesday. Having departed from Selingi, Johor Bahru, Malaysia, the boat capsized when it was struck by a large wave in Nongsa.

It was earlier reported that 18 people were killed in the incident before rescuers in a follow up operation found three more bodies on Thursday evening. A member of the Batam Disaster Mitigation Agency’s (BPBD) rescue team, Zabri Alhijra, said locals found the three bodies on Tanjung Memban Beach, Batam, at around 11:30 p.m.

“They found them floating on the water. They were later handed over to the rescue team,” said Zabri. Strong winds and large waves had hampered rescue operations, Zabri added.

Friday 4 November 2016

continue reading

Shipyard disaster: Rescuers spot four more bodies on tanker deck

Rescue workers have spotted three to four bodies lying on the deck of a burning tanker on Thursday as firefighters continued their battle to put out the blaze following a series of explosions aboard the vessel on November 1 at the Gadani ship-breaking yard.

“Some three to four burnt corpses were seen by the rescuers as they managed to climb up the ship in a bid to determine the situation inside the burning vessel,” Saad, grandson of the late philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi, told The Express Tribune.

More than 100 people who were reportedly inside the 1995-built tanker Aces at the time of the explosion are unaccounted for.

Eighteen-year-old Saad, who has taken part in the rescue operation since day one, explained that rescuers from the Edhi Foundation and the fire-brigade department, however, could not fetch the bodies down to the ground because of metal sheets that were too hot to stand on.

Rescuers were finding it difficult to carry out their work on the deck in the rear from where flames were leaping into the air, he said.

Meanwhile, workers continued their strike over the tragic incident which is seen as the worst disaster in the history of Gadani ship-breaking yard.

So far, 19 people are confirmed dead while over 50 others are injured.

Friday 4 November 2016

continue reading

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Death toll reaches 73 in Myanmar ferry disaster

The death toll in a Myanmar ferry sinking has reached 73 as authorities wrap up a week-long search and rescue operation for survivors.

The ferry sank early on Saturday, about 140 km northwest of Mandalay, Myanmar's second biggest city.

"We were able to salvage the sunken ferry yesterday and we don't expect to find any more bodies, so we've suspended the official rescue operation," said Ko Ko Naing, an official of Myanmar's social welfare ministry on Friday.

He said 73 bodies, among them 54 women, 14 men and 5 whose gender had yet to be identified, had been found, in addition to the 159 passengers rescued alive.

The ferry had been laden with at least 300 passengers when it sank, exceeding its official capacity of 120, local parliamentarian Kyaw Htay Lwin said, citing witnesses.

22 October 2016

continue reading

Cameroon train disaster toll rises to at least 60

At least 60 people were killed and nearly 600 injured when a packed train derailed between Cameroon's two main cities, officials said Saturday, as distraught relatives desperately sought news of missing loved ones.

With the dead and injured scattered between different hospitals, authorities were working flat out to cope with the scale of the disaster.

At Yaounde's main hospital, where the morgue was holding 29 bodies including those of babies, distraught relatives thronged the corridors.

The first person allowed into the morgue, a woman, emerged in tears. "She recognised the body of her sister," explained one of the people with her.

The train, travelling from the capital Yaounde to the economic hub of Douala, came off the rails near the central city of Eseka at around midday on Friday.

"We have received between 60 and 70 bodies at the station this morning," a railway official who asked not to be identified told AFP in Yaounde.

The train was crammed with people because a collapsed bridge had made travelling the same route by road impossible.

"Some of the wounded are arriving unconscious. We think the death toll will rise," said the railway official.

On Friday evening, state-run television reported that many of the injured were in a critical condition.

Health minister Alim Garga Hayatou told AFP after visiting some of the injured that more information would be released "once we are in control of the whole situation".

In the meantime hospital staff were "working hard and efficiently", he added.

At Yaounde's main hospital, the 29 bodies in the morgue included those of white people, many women and babies, a policeman on duty there said.

He had no information on nationalities although the French foreign ministry said one French national was among the dead.

One woman waiting her turn to enter the morgue said: "We have had no news from our sister since yesterday. We don't know whether she is alive.

"Her phone was ringing yesterday but it wasn't since this morning. Her husband is looking for her in Douala," said the woman who gave her name as Fadimatou.

Dan Njoya said he had come to the morgue "to see if the body of my four-month-old baby is here".

At another morgue, in Yaounde's Ekounou neighbourhood, there was a list of 24 names: 11 women, six men including one Ugandan, one child and six babies.

Most of those injured in the accident were taken to hospitals in Douala, medical sources said.

Rail operator Camrail, a subsidiary of French investment group Bollore, said the cause of the crash was under investigation.

"Technical investigations are ongoing to determine the causes of this terrible accident and the findings as they become available will be made known," it said in a statement.

The company was doing everything necessary to "deal with the injured and ensure support for the families affected by this tragedy", it added.

Police had cordoned off the railway stations in both cities.

Meanwhile, the road bridge that collapsed on Thursday night as a result of heavy rain reopened to traffic in both directions on Saturday after emergency work.

The road is one of the busiest in the country and one of the main commercial routes in central Africa, carrying trade towards landlocked Chad and the Central African Republic.

Saturday 22 October 2016

continue reading

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Fears of more bodies inside Tongi factory

Bangladesh firefighters were struggling Sunday to search a packaging factory following a major blaze that killed 25 people amid fears more bodies could still be inside the destroyed building.

Around 100 people were working at the factory on Saturday when the fire caused by an explosion in the boiler room tore through the four-storey structure on the outskirts on the capital Dhaka.

Stored chemicals accelerated a fire that killed at least 24 workers and injured dozens more after a boiler exploded at a packaging factory near Dhaka on Saturday, Bangladesh’s top building safety official told BenarNews.

“There could have been a huge stockpile of chemical substances used in foil packaging, so the fire turned devastating very quickly. The building collapsed and the adjoining building broke down, too,” Syed Ahmed, the inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, said in confirming that an explosion in the boiler room started the fire.

The blaze at the five-story Tampaco Foils Ltd. Factory in Tongi, which packaged food and tobacco products, was the deadliest industrial accident in Bangladesh since more than 1,100 garment workers were killed in the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex three years ago.

Saturday’s fire was the latest in a series of deadly industrial disasters that have struck the South Asian country in recent years, exposing widespread problems with workplace safety and raising questions about enforcement of building codes at factories nationwide.

The explosion and fire at the Tampaco factory began at around 6 a.m., but after firefighters put out the flames late in the day, first responders Saturday night were still looking for more bodies or people who might still be trapped alive beneath the smoky rubble of the collapsed buildings, authorities said.

They said around 100 workers were believed to be inside the building when the explosion occurred. Reports conflicted as to how many people were hurt in the disaster. At least 50 injured people were taken to local hospitals, officials said, but other reports put the figure as high as at least 70.

Authorities said they would open an investigation and that the company’s owners could face criminal charges.

“What I have seen here is an industry with bad safety provisions. Whether they had proper permission or not, proper documents, we will have to look into it,” Police Inspector-General A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque said while visiting the site of the disaster on the outskirts of Dhaka, according to Reuters.

Ahmed, the chief building safety inspector, said the Tampaco Foils Limited factory worked round-the-clock and employed 258 workers in three eight-hour shifts.

Tampaco, which was established in 1978, packages products for local affiliates of Western brands including the Nestlé and Nabisco food companies and British American Tobacco, according to the firm’s website.

“My company is fully compliant and I've never sacrificed on quality, as my clients are mainly multinational companies,” Reuters quoted Tampaco Chairman Syed Mokbul Hossain, a former Bangladeshi parliamentarian, as saying Saturday.

“Now my only focus is on my workers who were injured and on those who died. We will take care of them.”

Another firefighter said he feared more bodies were still inside the factory in the industrial town of Tongi.

“There might be more bodies underneath the rubble as many people were working inside during the accident,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The blaze is the latest in a series of deadly accidents to hit impoverished Bangladesh, whose $27-billion garment industry is the world’s second largest behind China’s.

Not counting Saturday’s fire, as many as 1,376 people have died in three large-scale industrial disasters in the country dating to June 2010.

In July, 38 people, including the owner of Rana Plaza, were charged with murder in Bangladesh’s deadliest industrial disaster to date.

The latest disaster reflected the government’s “myopic” actions and policies in safeguarding the lives of factory workers who are integral to Bangladesh’s economy, said Sultan Uddin Khan, executive director of the Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies (BILS).

“After the Rana Plaza tragedy, the government has given attention to improving the working conditions at the ready-made garment (RMG) factories due to pressure from the international buyers. But they [the government] did not attend to the safety of workers employed in other industries,” Khan told BenarNews,

“Ensuring the safety of the RMG sector only is a myopic view of the government,” he added.

Syed Ahmed defended his department against Khan’s criticism, saying it had been inspecting the factories of other industries to ensure worker safety.

“We have been in gradual improvement,” Ahmed said.

Meanwhile, according to Dr. Mohammad Nurnabi, a professor of applied chemistry at the University of Dhaka, boiler-room explosions happen frequently in Bangladesh.

These are partly caused by the use of untreated water in boilers, which, he said, often are not properly cleaned. He said this was necessary to remove a build-up of calcium, which could hazardous leaks in boilers.

“The factory owners should use purified water, what we call boiler-fed water, for boilers. But the factory owners in Bangladesh, in most of the cases, use ordinary water to reduce expenditure,” Nurnabi told BenarNews.

The accident is the worst since the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment complex in 2013 that killed more than 1,100 people in one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

That tragedy triggered international outrage and successfully put pressure on US and European clothing brands to improve deplorable safety conditions at the factories that supply them.

Bangladesh factory inspector general Syed Ahmed said an investigation would occur into the cause of Saturday’s accident.

“We will find out the responsible people behind this disaster and will take all necessary and legal actions,” Ahmed told AFP.

According to the company’s website, the packaging factory supplies multinational and domestic brands including British-American Tobacco Bangladesh Limited and Nestle Bangladesh Limited.

Labour rights groups urged the Bangladesh government and Western companies to work harder to protect the safety of workers in their supply chains.

“The boiler explosion and resulting fire ... demonstrates the ongoing dangers to industrial workers in that country,” a statement from a consortium of groups, including the International Labor Rights Forum, said.

Sunday 11 September 2016

continue reading

Saturday, 30 July 2016

20 killed as floods hit van carrying wedding party in Pakistan

At least 20 people, including children and women, were killed on Saturday when flash floods swept away a van carrying a marriage party in northwest Pakistan.

The incident took place when the ill-fated van was caught in flooding in Tabai area while travelling from Bara to Bazaar Zakha Khel in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

According to an official, eight women, two children and 10 men were killed in the tragic incident.

Rescue teams have retrieved the bodies and shifted them to a hospital in Landi Kotal, the official said.

Flash floods triggered by torrential rains have badly affected Pakistan’s restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in recent years.

According to National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), about 55 people have been killed and 35 others injured due to heavy rains in different parts of the country.

Annual spring and monsoon rains claim many lives each year in Pakistan, especially in rural areas where poorly built homes are susceptible to collapse.

Over 120 people were killed in rains and landslides killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan region in April.

Over 80 people were killed and almost 300,000 affected due to heavy rains last summer in Pakistan.

Nearly 2,000 people were killed and millions others badly affected in the worst flooding in 2010 that covered almost a fifth of the country’s total land mass.

Saturday 30 July 2016

continue reading

Friday, 25 March 2016

Relatives' agonising wait to identify Brussels dead

Forensic experts were on Thursday still going through the grisly and complex process of identifying victims of the Brussels bomb attacks, as families of those missing endured an agonising wait, their hopes fading by the hour.

As friends and relatives anxiously sought news from the increasingly desperate search, Belgian police experts were going through the painstaking work required to confirm the fatalities.

Tuesday's attacks at Brussels airport and at a metro station in the Belgian capital killed 31 people and injured another 300, 61 of whom were in critical condition.

Identification is proving slow, complicated by the violence of the explosions and because many of the victims were foreigners, police told RTBF television.

Around 40 nationalities are thought to be among the dead and wounded.

Their diverse backgrounds reflect the cosmopolitan nature of Brussels, Europe's symbolic capital.

"We have lost contact with Frank Deng. We've checked with his hotel in Brussels. He left at 7:16am, and went to the airport where his flight was at 9:05am," David Ye, a close friend, told AFP.

Jewellery, teeth and DNA

The first port of call for worried friends and relatives is the 1771 emergency number set up by the Belgian authorities.

Upon phoning they are told whether their loved ones are on a list of the injured. If not they are directed towards the Reine-Astrid military hospital, where a team of doctors, police officers and Red Cross staff has been specially put together to liaise with them.

Some 30 specialists, including the seven permanent Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) team experts, are working to identify the bodies or remains of victims recovered from the attack scenes.

"They collect all the items they can: jewellery, wallets, clothes, human remains," said Belgian police spokesman Michael Jonnois.

"They will compare these post-mortem items with ante-mortem information: how tall the person was, their weight, hair, et cetera.

"In extreme cases, we can resort to DNA samples. We can identify them from their teeth, genetic code or fingerprint."

He added: "We want to have 100 percent certainty. We cannot allow ourselves to have the slightest doubt."

Desperate search

A Facebook page where worried relatives, friends and colleagues can post notices of the missing has been set up. Pictures already uploaded show men and women, young and old, from Belgium and across the globe.

They have been shared thousands of times as people try to spread the word in the hope of finding out what happened to their loved ones.

"HAVE YOU SEEN THIS GIRL? Her name is ALINE BASTIN, Belgian, 29 years old. She was most probably on the metro," read one.

"We are DESPERATELY looking for her -- should you have any news, PLEASE give a sign!"

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa announced Thursday that Jimmy Montenegro, 37, from the northern city of Ibarra, was in a "very serious" condition after being caught in the metro blast.

"The wound is in the brain and the situation is critical," Montenegro's brother Marcelo Trujillo told AFP. The victim's wife said a piece of metal had hit the right side of his brain.

New York siblings Sascha and Alexander Pinczowski were at the airport. A Dutch newspaper said they were on the telephone to a relative when the bombs went off and the line went dead.

There has been no news of them since.

David Dixon, 51, a British computer programmer who lived in Brussels, texted his aunt after the airport blasts to say he was safe, but there are fears he was caught up in the metro attack.

"We are anxiously waiting for more information about our dear David," his family said in a statement.

"We continue to hope for good news."

Three confirmed fatalities

So far, just three of the fatalities have been named.

Adelma Marina Tapia Ruiz, a 37-year-old Peruvian woman who lived in Belgium, was killed in the airport blasts, the foreign ministry in Lima confirmed.

Another victim was Belgian civil servant Olivier Delespesse, according to his employer.

He was killed in the metro attack, local media reported, along with 20-year-old Belgian law student Leopold Hecht, who was named by his university.

Hecht's family has decided to donate his organs.

"We know it's the decision he would have wanted us to take," they told La Libre Belgique newspaper.

"We hope that giving his organs will save a life or help someone else."

With explosions like the ones we witnessed on Monday, the situation is very different than an airplane crash, where you more or less know the number of victims and their identities. The goal in that situation is to find and confirm the identities of the remains.

With explosions, there are many pieces of the puzzle that have to be pieced together, including the number of people in the vicinity of the explosions, their current whereabouts and whether they potentially match the deceased.

As things stand now, families are being told it could take up to three weeks before we hear more conclusive information about identification. To complicate matters further, while the cause of death will likely be attributed to the explosions, investigators still need to provide a more precise manner of death, such as blunt organ injury, shrapnel or smoke inhalation.

Three waves of injury in a bombing

Part of the difficulty is that when a bomb explodes, there are three waves of injury.

First, there is a primary blast -- a concussive wave, really -- that compresses everything around it. The most common fatal injury is called a blast lung, because the lungs, which are essentially large air sacs, are so rapidly compressed by this primary blast that the result is sudden death.

Second comes the debris -- shrapnel and bomb fragments -- causing devastating penetrating injuries.

Third are the bodies themselves, which are catapulted through the air and into or on top of other victims.

Identification is proving especially difficult because many of the bodies are not intact, Red Cross Belgium spokeswoman An Luyten told CNN. Those individual parts need to be identified and then "reassociated" with the rest of the body, according to Victor Weedn, chairman of the Department of Forensic Sciences at Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Authorities may not release the bodies to the families until all of the remains have been positively identified, he said.

The types of injuries on the Brussels bombings are rarely seen outside of combat. Belgian Health Minister Maggie De Block has described the scene as a war zone.

Hospitals facing war injuries after Brussels attacks

"All our patients are now in 25 different hospitals because they have such severe injuries and surgeons tell me that they are like war injuries," De Block told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday, listing serious burns and amputations among the injuries.

Back in October 2005, Brussels Airport opened a "full-service" morgue to facilitate transportation of the deceased. At the time, it was only the second of its kind in Europe. Now, it's serving on a scale no one anticipated. A disaster victim identification team, which is a division of the police, has been brought in and are working to identify the bodies at the airport, the Red Cross' Luyten told CNN.

'What color were their eyes?'

The Red Cross provides psychological support during the process while police ask basic questions to the family such as, "What was your loved one wearing?" and "What color were their eyes?" Luyten told CNN. Authorities also ask for dental records as part of the process of identifying the deceased after large explosions.

"It's a terrible scene to work, but ... mass disasters happen -- plane crashes, terrorist activities -- and we have highly specialized, trained individuals," CNN contributor Larry Kobilinsky told CNN's Ashleigh Banfield on "Legal View" on Thursday.

"They're part of mortuary teams, and they are primarily pathologists, with other kinds of scientists, DNA experts, odontologists (dentists). And the idea is to collect every part.

"You've got to document everything, sketch it, photograph it, but certainly collect every single body part. If the body is more or less intact, you could try to identify by height, weight, gender, hair color, eye color, dental records, fingerprints."

"On top of this, you need to create a DNA database of close relatives or samples that we know come from these individuals," said Kobilinsky, a forensic scientist and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "Ultimately, next of kin is going to want to bury their loved ones. So we need to get everything together, kind of like a puzzle, putting the pieces together, so that ... these people can be laid to rest."

And sometimes the puzzle remains incomplete. Eight years after the Oklahoma city bombing, a woman was discovered to have been buried with another victim's leg.

Just 60% of those who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11 were ever officially identified. More than a decade after Hurricane Katrina hit, the city of New Orleans still has 31 unidentified remains.

While we don't yet know the identities of the deceased, we do know they are composed of at least 40 nationalities. The responsibility to notify next of kin typically falls to the ministries of foreign affairs or victims' respective country's embassy.

The painstaking process of identifying the victims will continue for weeks and months, with little rest for investigators.

None of it, of course, will bring back the dead or provide more solace for the living. The goal for these experts is to provide some measure of closure to the victims' families.

Friday 25 March 2016

continue reading

Monday, 21 March 2016

Central Sulawesi DVI Team Identifies Chopper Crash Victims

Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) Team of Central Sulawesi Police is currently identifying the 13 bodies of the National Armed Force (TNI) members who are the victims of the helicopter crash at Kasiguncu Village, Poso Pesisir Sub-district, Poso District, Sunday, March 20, 2016.

Once the identification finished, the bodies will be laid down at 132 Tadulako Military Regional Command before being sent to their respective hometowns.

Meanwhile, the national flag has been flown at half-mast at 132 Tadulako Military Regional Command.

An Indonesian Army helicopter crashed in Poso regency, Central Sulawesi, at 6:20 p.m. local time on Sunday. Thirteen passengers and crew members reportedly lost their lives in the incident, which occurred in the village of Pattiro Bajo, Poso Pesisir Selatan district.

Sr. Comr. Ronny Suseno confirmed the incident. Ronny said the Bell 412 EP helicopter had flown from Watutau village in Lore Piore district, Poso regency, to Kasiguncu Airport in Poso, where a joint police-military team was pursuing members of the East Indonesia Mujahiddin (MIT) terrorist group led by Indonesia’s most wanted fugitive Santoso aka Abu Wardah.“The location of the helicopter crash is only around 1 to 1.5 kilometers from Kasiguncu Airport, Poso,” said Ronny.

He added that weather conditions in Poso had been bad and suspected the helicopter had been struck by lightning.

Indonesian Military and National Police personnel were deployed to the crash site and 13 ambulances readied to bring the bodies of the victims to the Bhayangkara Police hospital in Palu, Central Sulawesi.

The 13 bodies arrived at Bhayangkara Hospital Palu on Monday, March 21, around 4.45 am Central Indonesia Time.

The TNI chopper piloted by Capt. CPN Agung were flying above Napu towards Poso after taking-off from Watutu Village. Around 5.45 pm Central Indonesia Time, the chopper crashed only a couple of minutes from landing at Kasiguncu Airport.

The TNI Headquarters said that the helicopter crashed due to severe weather, however, TNI had not made further investigation.

The chopper carried seven passengers and six crew members.

Monday 21 March 2015

continue reading

Great East Japan Earthquake: Hunt for missing disaster victims still confounds rescuers

Five years after the Great East Japan Earthquake, police in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures are still searching for and identifying the bodies of those who went missing on March 11, 2011, though as time goes on they have fewer clues to work with.

The huge earthquake and ensuing tsunami caused massive damage across a broad swath of the Tohoku region. It left a total of 15,894 people dead, while 2,562 people remain unaccounted for as of Feb. 10, including 1,124 in Iwate, 1,237 in Miyagi and 197 in Fukushima, according to the National Police Agency.

Authorities in the three prefectures say they had recovered the bodies of 4,672 in Iwate, 9,539 in Miyagi and 1,613 in Fukushima by the end of January. The figures exclude the number of headless bodies, remains with only parts of the body recovered, as well as victims of aftershocks from the March 11 quake.

Of those recovered, police have matched names with all of the bodies recovered in Fukushima, 4,613 of those in Iwate and 9,523 in Miyagi.

But the challenge of identifying victims has grown over time. This year, police have managed to identify just 10 people. The low figure could be attributed to several factors, including relatives not reporting their kin as missing as well as a lack of DNA samples to match with bodies, since many victims’ homes were washed away in the tsunami.

In Fukushima Prefecture, a number of areas are still designated as no-go zones due to high radiation levels caused by the reactor meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

In these areas, police have found many businesses reluctant to aid in search activities, which often require the use of heavy machinery.

There are also many family members who argue the authorities have yet to exhaust all options in their search.

A man in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, whose eldest son is still listed as missing, submitted a request to the city office earlier this month calling for another investigation into places where searches were already conducted.

Despite these difficulties, police say they will continue working to identify remains.

In January, Fukushima police managed to ID the 1,613th victim, a carpenter in his 60s, based on records of artificial teeth. His body was recovered on March 14, 2011, but it took until January of this year to identify it as that of the carpenter, who had lived in the city of Iwaki.

After interviewing local dental technicians, police concluded that, due to their shape and color, it was highly likely that the carpenter’s artificial teeth matched the dental records.

Police also obtained an X-ray from a hospital the man visited, which provided conclusive evidence. It showed “a feature on the backbone typical of those who regularly carry heavy objects over long periods of time.”

Miyagi Prefectural Police set up a task force in November 2011 dedicated to researching and investigating unidentified and missing individuals. The officers from the task force have since taken various unorthodox approaches to their mission, including zooming in on pictures of remains and looking for moles or signs of surgery that might have been overlooked in an autopsy.

In the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, a photo found near a male body was even helpful in identifying that man. Fingerprints found on the photo and that of the individual matched, and police went on to determine which photo-developing machine was used to print it, based on a code found on its back side. After going from that photo studio to another equipped with the same machine, police officers found the studio that actually developed the photo, which led to the identification of the 43-year-old man.

“Methods leading to identification are different in each case,” an officer with the task force said. “We are determined to make continuous efforts to find clues step by step.”

In addition to checking DNA samples and dental charts against the remains, Iwate Prefectural Police have released facial sketches of those who are still unidentified and held consultation events at temporary housing facilities.

Five years since the disaster, police in the coastal areas — who play a central role in search efforts — are renewing their pledge to recover the remains and return them to families in a bid to help bring closure to those still suffering.

Tomonori Hirobata, a 29-year-old senior officer at the Kahoku Police Station in coastal Ishinomaki, has taken part in the more than 1,000 searches since the disasters, when he was dispatched from the Naruko Police Station, in the inland city of Osaki.

Hirobata said he has had many exchanges with the locals at the police station and sometimes receives words of appreciation from them.

“There are still so many missing individuals who should be returned to their families, but my efforts are not enough,” Hirobata said apologetically.

Hirobata said he has seen many families of the missing and dead shed tears over the loss of their relatives, which has renewed his determination to help bring them closure.

“Who else would conduct the search but us?” he asked.

21 March 2015

continue reading

Two bodies recovered, nine still missing after Chitral avalanche

Rescuers on Sunday found the bodies of two schoolchildren hit by an avalanche in the mountainous northwest, while nine more remain buried beneath the snow.

The disaster struck on Saturday afternoon near the village of Susom, some 40 kilometres north of the town of Chitral in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), local police station chief Sultan Baig said.

Worried parents and authorities began searching for the ninth graders when they did not return from school. “The chances of finding any survivors are very low,” said local deputy mayor Mohammad Ali. “But you never know, people have been found alive buried under snow for nearly 20 hours.”

Meanwhile, Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) spokesperson announced the demise of at least eight students while claiming to have recovered two bodies. The casualties include Rehmat Bai, Imran Uddin, Faiz Ali, Ali Shan, Imran Khan, Elahi, Irshad Murad and Mubashir.

“So far two bodies have been recovered and due to the terrain and topography heavy machinery could not make their way to the area people are using local available equipment to recover the bodies,” the PDMA spokesperson said.

Talking to APP, an official of Police Control Chitral Fazaluddin said that soon after the incident, the Pakistan Army troops and Scouts rushed to the site in Susoom village of Karimabad. He said that of two bodies recovered so far, one is of a student and the other of a passerby. The recovered bodies were identified as Mubashir S/O Nouroz, resident of Susoom and Rehmat S/O Adina, also from Susoom village in Karimabad.

The official said that the rescue operation was halted due to bad weather and heavy rain. Due to the fear of another avalanche, the operation was stopped, he said.

Heavy rains have killed at least 79 people, injured 101 others and damaged 240 houses since March 9 across the country, according to the National Disaster Management Authority. It said landslides and collapsed roofs caused most of the fatalities.

Monday 21 March 2015

continue reading

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Flydubai plane crash

Flydubai said on Saturday that it will organise a "programme of hardship payments" of $20,000 to each victims' families to address their immediate financial needs.

The Dubai airliner with 62 people on board nosedived and exploded in a giant fireball early on Saturday while trying to land in strong winds in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, killing all aboard, officials said.

"At present, our priority is to identify and contact the families of those lost in today’s tragic accident and provide immediate support to those affected. flydubai will additionally organise a programme of hardship payments to the families amounting to $20,000 per passenger, in accordance with our Conditions of Carriage, with the aim of addressing immediate financial needs," a flydubai spokesperson said.

Flydubai to confirm passengers' names

Flydubai will release the names of those on board fatal flight FZ981 after it has contacted the families of the 62 passengers and crew members on board, the airline said late on Saturday.

In an emailed statement, the airline said: “Our priority is the extension of all possible care and respect to the families of the passengers and crew of flight FZ981.”

“We are currently in the process of contacting all families that have lost loved ones as a result of this tragic accident. It is a process that will take a little time but as a mark of respect to the families of the bereaved, we want to make every effort to inform them directly prior to releasing the full passenger manifest.”

A list of names of all 55 passengers on board, including 4 children, was released on Saturday morning by Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry. Flydubai has said the passengers were 44 Russians, 8 Ukrainians, 2 Indians and 1 Uzbekistani. A full list of names and some nationalities of crew members was also released by the ministry.

The Russian Embassy in the United Arab Emirates, flydubai and the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) later confirmed the nationalities of crew members, including pilots. They were 2 Spaniards and one each from Russia, Columbia, Cyprus and Kyrgyzstan.

Flight recorders recovered

The flight data recorder and cockpit data recorder from the flydubai plane that crashed on Saturday have been recovered by the local accident investigation team at the crash site in Russia, Flydubai confirmed in a Facebook post.

Russia's Emergencies Ministry said most of the passengers were Russians, and seven crew members of various nationalities. Flydubai confirmed that there were no survivors and said four children were among those killed.

The powerful explosion pulverised the plane but investigators quickly recovered both flight recorders. The cause of the crash wasn't immediately known, but officials and experts pointed at a sudden gust of wind as a possible reason. Related story: Flydubai sees first tragedy

"Our primary concern is for the families of the passengers and crew who were on board. Everyone at flydubai is in deep shock and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those involved," said CEO Gaith Al Gaith. The airline said it was in the process of contacting all families of the victims. Related story: Russian consulate in UAE to fast-track visa, consular services to family of victims

No distress call made

Al Gaith said that the pilots, who were from Cyprus and Spain, hadn't issued any distress signal before the crash. They had 5,965 and 5,769 hours of flying time respectively, making them "quite experienced," Al Gaith added. The cabin crew included two Russians and citizens of Seychelles, Colombia and Kyrgyzstan.

“I can confirm a far as I can see there was no distress call,” Al Ghaith said at a press conference in Dubai on Saturday.

The aircraft, a five year old Boeing 737-800, went through a heavy maintenance check just two months ago, Al Ghaith also said. The flight departed Dubai International at 12:20am on Saturday. The accident occured at 4:50am Dubai time.

There were 55 passengers and 7 crew members on board. The nationalities of the passengers have been confirmed as 44 Russians, 8 Ukrainians, 2 Indians and 1 Uzbekistani. Of the passengers 33 were women, 18 were men and 4 were children.

The United Arab Emirates’ General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) said there were 2 female and 5 male crew members. Their nationalities were 1 Cypriot, 2 Spaniard, 1 Russian, 1 Seychellois, and 1 Columbian and 1 Kyrgyzstani. It is understood the pilots were Cypriot and Spanish.

The GCAA has sent a four-person team to Moscow who will then travel onwards to Rostov-on-Don to assist Russian authorities in the investigation into the incident, GCAA assistant director general for air accident investigation Ismail Al Hosani said.

Flydubai has sent an emergency response team directly to the site, Al Ghaith said. The flydubai chief declined to comment on what might have caused the accident, telling reporters it was too early to speculate.

“We cannot judge right now what has happened until our team get the full information about the incident,” he said. Al Hosani said the GCAA isn’t ruling anything out.

Strong winds eyed as cause of crash

Rostov regional Governor Vasily Golubev said that "by all appearances, the cause of the air crash was the strongly gusting wind, approaching a hurricane level."

According to the weather data reported by Russian state television, winds at ground level weren't dangerously strong at the moment of the crash, but at an altitude of 500 metres (1,640 feet) and higher they reached a near-hurricane speed of around 30 meters per second (67 miles per hour).

Ian Petchenik, a spokesman for the flight-tracking website Flightradar24, told The Associated Press that the plane missed its approach then entered a holding pattern.

According to Flightradar24, the plane circled for about two hours before making another landing attempt. It said a Russian Aeroflot plane scheduled to land around the same time made three landing attempts but then diverted to another airport.

According to its data, the plane began climbing again after a go-around when it suddenly started to fall with vertical speed of up to 6,400 metres per minute (21,000 feet/min).

The closed-circuit TV footage showed the plane going down in a steep angle and exploding.

Al Gaith said the plane attempted to land in line with established procedures.

"As far as we know the airport was open and we were good to operate," he said, adding that they couldn't have landed without air traffic controllers' permission.

Al Gaith said the pilots hadn't issued any distress call and hadn't attempted to divert to an alternate airport.

"It was an uncontrollable fall," said Sergei Kruglikov, a veteran Russian pilot, said on Russian state television. He said that a sudden change in wind speed and direction could have caused the wings to abruptly lose their lifting power.

He said that the pilots would have understood seconds before the crash that they were going to die, but "passengers and the cabin crew likely didn't realise they were facing imminent death."

Pilot Vitaly Sokolovsky told Rossiya 24 television that a sudden gust of wind could be particularly dangerous at low altitude while the plane was flying slowly at low power and the pilot was throttling up the engines to make another run.

President Vladimir Putin offered his condolences to the victims' families and top Russian Cabinet officials flew to the crash site to oversee the investigation.

In a statement expressing "shock and grief," Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades confirmed that the pilot was a Cypriot national, Aristos Socratous from Limassol.

Officials said the plane and bodies of the victims were torn into small pieces by the powerful blast, making identification difficult. Investigators said they were working on the plane's cockpit conversation recorder and another one recording parameters of the flight.

The pilots on board have flown a combined 10,000 hours. They were experienced pilots. There were 2 Russian crew members on board.

One of the two flight data recorders was found at the crash site, and the search for the second one is ongoing, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Of the seven crew members, one was from Cyprus, two from Spain, one Colombian, one Seychelles and one from Kyrgyz Republic, said Alexander Efimov. Russian ambassador to the UAE. It was earlier reported that one of the crew member was Russian.

Boeing ready to provide assistance

US plane maker Boeing says it is ready to provide assistance to the investigation into the fatal flydubai crash in Russia.

“Boeing’s thoughts and prayers are with those on board flydubai flight FZ981 and their families and friends. Boeing stands ready to provide technical assistance upon the request of government agencies conducting the investigation,” Boeing said in a statement on its website.

Sunday 20 March 2015

continue reading

Monday, 14 March 2016

Orakzai mine collapse toll rises to 10

More than 30 miners were trapped in the mountainous Orakzai tribal region after a shaft collapsed amid heavy downpours on Saturday, according to the political administration of the district.

Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in a statement has termed the mine explosion a ‘natural disaster’.

The surviving labourers have said that the digging in the coalmine has been illegal.

On Sunday emergency responders were struggling to rescue two missing miners, with officials saying it was unclear whether they were still alive.

A military statement issued late Saturday said more than 100 troops from the army and paramilitary Frontier Corps were helping to operate heavy machinery at the site and providing medical support.

“Apparently torrential rains were the main cause of the collapse but usually the management of such coal mines do not care about safety standards,” the political agent of Orakzai region Zubair Khan said.

The mines in Pakistan are notorious for poor safety standards and bad ventilation.

At least 43 workers were killed in March 2011 when explosions triggered a collapse in a coal mine in southwestern Baluchistan province, which is rich in gas, oil and mineral deposits.

Monday 14 March 2015

continue reading

Best way to identify a missing person? It’s all in the soles of your feet

Efforts to identify bodies of victims of natural disasters or people with dementia who are under protective custody using the soles of the feet are underway in Japan as the system is expected to help speed up the identification process once it comes into effect.

The move is led by former members of Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), who argue that skin ridge patterns of feet because they remain intact for one’s lifetime can serve like fingerprints since they are unique among individuals.

Akira Mitsuzane, 68, former head of the MPD’s first investigation division that handles crimes including murders and robberies, and Hideo Kaneko, 69, a former member of the MPD’s crime scene investigation division, came upon the idea of using feet ridge patterns after the earthquake and tsunami disaster in March 2011.

They witnessed multiple cases in which family members of victims had the wrong bodies identified as police, who tried to return victims’ bodies to their families as quickly as possible, misidentified the bodies as they relied on victims’ clothing and other body traits for the identification.

“It takes time and money to conduct DNA analysis and you can’t always obtain fingerprints. For the purpose of identification (of bodies) alone, ridge patterns of feet have some more suitable characters,” said Kaneko.

Ridge patterns are usually taken from an area right under toes and they are preserved in many cases since the skin is thicker and the area protected by shoes, even though other parts of the body might be damaged in disasters.

It takes time and money to conduct DNA analysis and you can’t always obtain fingerprints. Mitsuzane believes people are more inclined to register their feet ridge patterns as opposed to fingerprints due to privacy concerns and the risk of the unintended use of information.

It is necessary to preregister and store one’s ridge pattern information to run the identification system, but collecting data only requires placing a foot on a scanner.

Asked by Mitsuzane and others, a major electric appliance maker has developed a portable scanner prototype, which weighs around 20 kilograms, and is capable of instantly scanning and storing data.

The fact that many demented elderly are under protective custody but unable to be identified is a serious issue as well.

According to the 2014 statistics by the MPD, the number of reported missing seniors who are believed to suffer from dementia is 10,783 in Japan. Also, 75 victims of the March 2011 disaster still remain unidentified as of the end of February 2016.

“The use of foot ridge patterns can be an effective preparation for the future,” said Mitsuzane, adding that some 20,000 and over 300,000 victims would be expected in the event of a possible Tokyo inland earthquake and the Nankai Trough earthquake, respectively.

“The fact that many demented elderly are under protective custody but unable to be identified is a serious issue as well,” Mitsuzane said.

Monday 14 March 2016

continue reading

Friday, 15 January 2016

The search for Vietnam's war dead: Largest ever DNA identification project is underway to name those who perished 40 years ago

Over forty years after the end of the Vietnam War, the remains of nameless civilians and fighters are still being unearthed.

Now efforts have begun to identify the bones of half a million Vietnamese people who went missing during the conflict between 1955 and 1975.

Experts are using DNA technologies to test the remains found around the country in the largest identification effort ever attempted.

Vietnam veteran and genomics pioneer Craig Venter told Nature: 'When I was a 21-year-old in the medical corps there, I never imagined that such a project could ever become possible.

'We thought of body counts as statistics — now, decades later, it may be possible to put names to them.'

Vietnam has only been able to identify a few hundred of its war dead so far using old technologies, leaving thousands of families still desperate to give their long-lost relatives a proper funeral.

In 2014, the Vietnamese government promised to invest 500 billion dong ($25 million or £17 million) in upgrading three existing DNA testing centres so they would be up to the morbid task.

And last month it signed a training contract with Hamburg-based medical diagnostics firm Bioglobe to get Vietnamese DNA experts up to speed with the new technology.

Bioglobe's CEO, Wolfgang Höppner, has said the project still faces considerable challenges.

These include the country's humid conditions, which can degrade the DNA of bodies that were buried in shallow graves decades ago.

The sheer numbers of bones involved is also a hurdle to overcome, meaning a systematic approach is vital, as well as the production of a vast bank of DNA collected from the current population.

An outreach programme is planned to collect saliva samples from volunteers, but since the war was decades ago, samples may have to come from distant relatives whose DNA is less similar, making the task more difficult.

Experts will use kits made by another German-based company called Qiagen, which are designed to reveal as much DNA as possible from tricky sources such as old bones.

They will use these to extract DNA from powdered bone samples before comparing multiple sequences against a set of genomic markers. This will produce a unique DNA profile. The team will also use techniques developed by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).

Finished genetic profiles will be checked against the database of the modern population to try and find living relatives of the dead.

The Sarajevo-based ICMP helped to identify nearly all the people who were killed in the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 as well as others slain during the conflict.

They will now help to train Vietnamese scientists taking on the new momentous identification project.

It will rely on people to come forward with knowledge about where bodies may be buried, as well as military intelligence, unlike in Bosnia where satellite imagery could be used to find mass graves.

Truong Nam Hai, head of the Institute of Biotechnology at the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology – the site of the first upgraded lab – hopes that by next year when the labs are up and running, the remains of between 8,000 and 10,000 people will be able to be identified per year.

Friday 15 January 2015

continue reading