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

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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

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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

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