Monday, 3 December 2012

Update: Congo cargo plane crash death toll up to 32

A Congolese city morgue official on Sunday updated the death toll from a cargo plane crash two days ago to 32, as the search continued for more bodies in the wreckage at Brazzaville airport.

So far emergency workers had removed 32 bodies from the scene, 15 of whom had been identified, said the official. An earlier death toll from a hospital official put the total at 27.

All seven people on board the plane were killed as the plane skidded off the runway as it came into land in stormy weather, demolishing several homes and a bar before crashing into a ravine.

The other victims were those caught in the path of the crash, which left more than 30 others injured.

Five of the people on board the plane were Armenians, a civil aviation official in Yereven said Saturday. Their foreign ministry said that the aircraft belonged to Armenian freight specialist airline Rij Airways.

The Ilyushin plane, registered with local company Aero-services, was flying in from the western port city of Pointe Noire carrying cars and other goods.

Monday 3 December 2012

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Harmony brings more bodies to surface in illegal mining disaster

Gold producer Harmony has confirmed that the number of illegal miner fatalities at its abandoned Eland shaft had reached 82, after another body was found on Monday morning.

Five bodies of trespassing miners had been brought to surface on Saturday, Harmony COO Tom Smith told Mining Weekly Online.

The deaths followed an apparent underground fire. It was suspected that the people died of smoke and gas inhalation, although Smith said that the results from the autopsies had not been made known yet.

Harmony spokesperson Marian van der Walt previously said that it remained uncertain what the extent of the incident was, and whether or not more bodies would be found.

An estimated 294 illegal miners have been brought to surface in connection to the mining at the Eland shaft, and have been charged.

Monday 3 December 2012

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Update: Japan Sasago tunnel collapse killed nine

Nine people are now confirmed to have died after a major tunnel collapsed in Japan, officials say.

The bodies were found in three vehicles that were crushed by fallen concrete panels in the Sasago tunnel, about 80km (50 miles) west of the capital Tokyo.

A fire broke out after the tunnel caved in on Sunday, and a number of survivors fled to safety on foot.

The usually busy tunnel remains closed, as police are investigating potential negligence.

There will be serious questions about how a major tunnel on one of Japan's most important traffic arteries could have failed so catastrophically, the BBC's Rupert Wingfield Hayes in Tokyo reports.

The private company that runs the highway has said the tunnel was given a major inspection just two months ago and was given a clean bill of health, our correspondent adds.

Survivors' stories

Emergency workers said that five bodies were recovered from a van early on Monday. They were identified as three men and two women, all in their twenties and from Tokyo, Kyodo news agency reported.

Another woman, aged 28, who had been in the vehicle survived.

Three bodies were found in a car and another body in a lorry.

The driver of the lorry had reportedly telephoned for help from inside the 4.3km (2.7 miles) twin-bore tunnel - one of the longest in Japan.

Part of the tunnel collapsed at 08:00 local time (23:00 GMT Saturday).

Thick black smoke was seen billowing from the tunnel, hampering rescue efforts.

Pictures from closed circuit TV cameras inside the tunnel later showed a section of up to 100m (328ft) that had caved in on the Tokyo-bound lanes on the Chuo Expressway in Yamanashi prefecture.

A reporter for public broadcaster NHK described driving through the tunnel as it began to collapse, seeing other cars trapped and on fire. His car was badly damaged, he said.

Another survivor told the broadcaster that he saw "a concrete part of the ceiling fall off all of a sudden when I was driving inside. I saw a fire coming from a crushed car".

Survivor Tomohiro Suzuki said: "A part of the ceiling, just as wide as the road, had collapsed straight down and broken in the middle into a V-shape."

He and his family walked for an hour to get out, with the smoke worsening.

"I heard after a while on the public address system that a fire had occurred inside the tunnel and the sprinkler system was going to be activated," he told Jiji Press.

"I kept wondering when the fire would spread and catch us," Mr Suzuki said.

Japan is prone to large earthquakes, but none was reported in the area at the time.

Some experts have said that structural failure may be to blame - but this has not been confirmed by the authorities.

Monday 3 December 2012

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Bodies of Armenians killed in Congolese plane crash to be identified

The pilot in command of the cargo plane that crashed in the Congolese capital Friday, Nov 30 evening, has been identified.

“This was Varazdat Balasanyan, a citizen of Armenia,” spokesman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry Tigran Balayan told PanARMENIAN.Net

The bodies of Armenian citizens who died in Congolese plane crash will be identified in the days to come, Armenian Foreign Ministry’s Facebook page said.

On November 30, about 30 people, including the crew of 7; 5 of them Armenian citizens, were killed when Il76 Armenian cargo plane chartered by Aéro-Service Congolese airline skidded off the runway and crashed into houses and a bar in the Congolese capital.

Earlier, spokesperson for Armenia’s General Department of Civil Aviation, Ms. Nelly Cherchinyan told a PanARMENIAN.Net reporter that the crew consisted of 7 people, of whom 5 were Armenian citizens.

Among those perished are Ara Tovmasyan; Andranik Gevorgyan; Edgar Avetyan, born 1989.

The Ilyushin plane, registered with local company Aero-services, was flying in from the western port city of Pointe Noire carrying cars and other goods.

Monday 3 December 2012

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Burma: Lives still in limbo 4 years after Cyclone Nargis

When Cyclone Nargis tore through Burma's Irrawaddy Delta in 2008, the locals took shelter in rice sheds and temples, tied themselves to coconut trees and prayed they would survive the storm. Up to 200,000 of them perished.

Four-and-a-half years later, people are still struggling to find new livelihoods, farm the paddy fields that were inundated with salt water, and rebuild communities that lost up to a third of their population. They are also having to deal with the persistent trauma of what happened that spring night.

"Of course there is a psychological effect. It was traumatic," said Hla Aye, a 62-year-old woman who makes a living as a day labourer in Pyin Ma Gone, a village accessible only by boat, close to the delta town of Bogale.

"Sometimes when it rains, some of the children refuse to go outside. The parents have to tell them not to be so afraid of the storm and rains."

The raw power of Cyclone Nargis not only devastated the communities of the Irrawaddy Delta. It also shone a light on the inefficiency and cruelty of Burma's military junta, whose response was both inadequate and scornful. The generals expended more effort trying to prevent foreign aid workers and Burmese volunteers from Rangoon from reaching the region than they did helping those who were affected.

A famous Burmese writer and comedian, Maung Thura, better known as Zarganar, was arrested and jailed after organising food convoys and criticising the government's response. Even now, the media needs a special permit to visit. The Independent was among a group of international reporters taken to the delta by the EU to see the progress of European-funded development projects. The coming to power of a nominally civilian government in Burma that has embarked on a series of reforms has made things easier for those involved in efforts to rebuild lives in the Delta. Among the most important tasks are providing clean water in remote villages and income generation projects.

Half-an-hour downstream the Bogale River from Pyin Ma Gone lies the community of Myit Poe Kyone Sein. There, villagers have learnt how to plant eucalyptus trees and mangroves to provide timber and erosion breaks and build energy-efficient ovens from clay and banana-tree sawdust. They have recently also reaped the benefits of having access to micro-loans.

"I set up a shop selling vegetables and snacks," said Ai Win, one of 50 women in the village who are part of the loan scheme and who meet in a large thatched hut.

The reforms carried out by the government of President Thein Sein have brought changes to the lives of those in the Delta in other ways. Everyone in Pyin Ma Gone knew that Barack Obama had visited Rangoon, and met President Thein Sein and the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi – they had listened to the news on the television or the radio.

"We are beginning to see some freedoms starting. We feel we can speak more openly," said Hla Kyi, a 65-year-old farmer. "Before, if something was wrong we were too scared to speak to the village authorities. Now we can talk to them about matters of justice."

As an example, Mr Kyi said that previously if two people had quarrelled and one of those involved had been related to a government official, no one would have raised the matter. Nowadays there was more confidence.

There was also more hope for the future. Another farmer, Than Khe, 53, said he had little knowledge of the changes that had taken place in the government. He also knew that their lives had not yet fully recovered from the impact of Nargis. And yet he said: "We do trust. We do believe. We believe our lives will get better."

Harder to tackle than field-testing salt-tolerant rice seedlings to counter the salination that took place, and replacing destroyed mangroves, is the sheer scale of loss. The village of Pyin Ma Gone lost 33 per cent of its population to Nargis while the death toll in Myit Poe Kyone Sein amounted to 25 per cent.

Everyone, it seemed, had friends or relatives who had lost their lives. Than Khe lost his wife, daughter-in-law and six employees, Hla Kyi lost a daughter and daughter-in-law. Two of Hla Aye's sons and daughter-in-laws were also among the dead.

The bodies of many of those who died were never found – swept out to sea or else carried by the tides to another community who had no idea who they might be. Most were buried as there was no fuel for cremation fires.

"A year after Nargis, if a farmer's crop grew particularly well in one patch, you knew that a body was there," said Win Sein Naing, of the Mangrove Service Network, a local group that has been trying to develop livelihoods.

Myo Win, 41, who works for another NGO, was at his parents' home in the town of Bogale when Nargis struck. He survived by leaning against the outside wall that did not face the storm. At the very height of the surge – around 3.30am – the water came up to his chest. By 5am, it had gone.

His main concern had been for his wife and children, who were at his home by themselves. As it was, they survived largely unscathed, but Mr Win's son, Phyo Htet Kyaw, now aged six, is among those children for whom the annual monsoon may always be a cause for anxiety. "He cannot go outside when it rains," he said.

Monday 3 December 2012

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