Saturday, 22 June 2013

Kedarnath turns into ghost town, bodies pile up

Hellish rains have turned Kedarnath into a ghost town. Though the outer structure of the temple seems intact, there are bodies piled up outside its gate.

According to reports, rain water gushed into the town from the summit behind the shrine carrying rocks and boulders, destroying everything on its path.

The most ironic part of the tragedy is despite the mobile phone towers remaining intact, there is no electricity due to which people were unable to contact their families as their phones ran out of charge.

IAF has already started rescue operation in the area.

Survivors all praise for Army

Having several brushes with death, survivors of the Himalayan tsunami which left a trail of destruction in Uttarakhand were all praise for Army, which they said has given them a second life.

Sukhvinder Singh, a Ludhiana native who was stuck for eight days on the way to Hemkund Sahib, said, "I was en route to Hemkund Sahib when the disaster struck. The situation was deteriorating with the passage of time...We were bit relieved when Army stepped in. They gave us food and water and helped us in every possible way. Had they not been here, we wouldn't have survived."

Recalling his horrific experiences during the past few days, Aman Bisht, who arranges treks to Hemkund Sahib every year, said, "The road links were shattered and down there we had no bridges left. And even if there was a road somewhere, it was broken. The Army has been very supportive."

Another survivor from Punjab, who was rescued from Joshi Math, said he was able to contact his family only with the help of army personnel.

One Sharan, who along with his family was rescued from Badrinath and brought to Chamouli relief camp yesterday, said, "The situation is pathetic. Had the army not been there, we would not have any chance of coming back ever.

157 of 671 Tamil Nadu pilgrims rescued, reach Chennai

Tamil Nadu government today said 157 of the total 671 pilgrims from the state, stranded in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand, have returned home and officials have established contact with over 380 persons still awaiting return.

Following chief minister Jayalalithaa's announcement about taking steps on a war-footing to rescue Tamil Nadu pilgrims stranded there, a team of high-level officials led by the state's Special Representative in Delhi are camping in Uttarakhand and coordinating rescue efforts with officials there, a state government release here said.

Of the 671 pilgrims, 157 of them have been rescued and reached Chennai, while 118 of them have been lodged at Tamil Nadu House in Delhi and they will be sent home by air.

Officials have established contact with 382 people even as efforts are on to rescue 14 others stranded in Gaurikund, it said, adding that one person is yet to be contacted.

Meanwhile, around 100 pilgrims reached Chennai from Delhi today by a government carrier.

No damage to Hemkund Sahib gurdwara: Trust

The Shri Hemkund Sahib Management Trust today said no damage has been caused to the Hemkund Sahib shrine by the rain fury in Uttarakhand and it is safe.

"The main gurdwara building is intact and no loss has been caused to the 'sanctum sanctorum' where the Birs (religious scriptures) is installed," Vice Chairman Narinderjit Singh Bindra said.

He told over phone that he had received information from SHSMT staff from Hemkund Sahib that on the intervening night of June 16 and 17, water level of the lake adjoining the shrine had increased as glacier from the uphill came down.

The staffers have erected embankments of sand bags in and around the gurdwara.

Bindra said the Punjab government and other organisations should coordinate with them before sending relief material and vehicles "so that we could inform them what type of help is required there."

Asked about the rescue operation at Hemkund Sahib and Gurdwara Govind Dham, he said that "all pilgrims would be evacuated by Sunday morning.

Helplines abuzz with frantic calls

Control rooms of various state governments set up here are abuzz with frantic phone calls as relatives of stranded tourists in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand are calling anxiously to find out their whereabouts.

While operations are underway on a war footing to rescue pilgrims stranded in various places, authorities at the control rooms are trying to console anxious victims and family members calling to know the whereabouts of their dear ones.

"We are receiving about 1,000 calls daily, mostly from family members back home who are trying to locate their dear ones," said an official at the control room set-up by the West Bengal Government.

An official of the control room operated by the Chhattisgarh government in Delhi said, "We are sorting out the data of the rescued persons that is provided to us by the Uttarakhand government and the family members are being informed."

Budhaditya Mukherjee, one of the rescued pilgrims from West Bengal, said the ordeal began last Wednesday when he was stuck at the Hanuman Choti on his way to Yamunotri, when incessant rains forced him and a group of pilgrims with him to turn back.

"We saw the hotel near ours crash into the Yamuna as the flood washed away the soil below it," he said.

"There was knee deep slush on the road, but our driver managed to turn around and after travelling till Kharati, we saw police officials trying to make a road using JCBs, as the highway washed off," he added.

He said that the locals and the rescue officials helped us in reaching one of the camps operated by the state government who rescued him and brought him to Delhi, while seniors in his group were provided facilities to travel back to Kolkata.

The rescued pilgrims said that the major problem was shortage of food, though various camps were trying their best to provide it.

"The food in the hotels located in the safer areas are being sold at double the price, while the camps are trying their best to provide food to stranded pilgrims," said Mukherjee, who stayed at a makeshift camp before being shifted to Delhi.

According to officials of the West Bengal control room, a family from Kolkata was rescued along with 200 others this afternoon from a gorge near Kedarnath by the Army.

"There are calls from people of the neighbouring states also, who might not be getting through the helplines set-up by their states, we are trying to help them also," said the official from the West Bengal control room.

"The biggest problem we are facing is that the pilgrims are moving out on their own, so it is difficult to pin-point their location and inform the rescuers," said a control room personnel of the Chhattisgarh government.

Saturday 22 June 2013

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Senior Nicaraguan Air Force chiefs killed in helicopter crash

A number of senior members of the Nicaraguan air force have been killed in a helicopter crash that has claimed a total of 10 victims.

Air Force Chief of Staff Colonel Manuel Lopez and Counterintelligence head Colonel Chester Vargas were among those killed in the crash, which took place near the capital Managua on Thursday.

The Russian-made Mil Mi-17 helicopter came down near Lake Managua, west of the capital, at around 10:30 a.m. local time (1630 GMT) as it was on its way back from a military base in the northwest of the country.

An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the incident.

Soldiers in charge of searching the area have recovered a number of bodies from the lake, while strong winds are making the task more difficult.

According to some reports, those aboard the helicopter were coming back from a training session in the northwestern town of La Paz Centro.

The helicopter had sent a distress call moments before it went down.

Saturday 22 June 2013

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O'Loan appeals for fresh Disappeared information

Nuala O'Loan yesterday urged anyone with even the smallest amount of information to come forward so the families of seven people 'disappeared' by republican paramilitaries can bury their remains.

The former police ombudsman was speaking at the launch of The Disappeared of Northern Ireland's Troubles, a book which tells the personal stories of families of those whose loved ones were abducted, murdered and secretly buried.

The bodies of 10 of the victims have so far been recovered. The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains is still searching for seven people murdered and secretly buried in unmarked graves.

Earlier this week actor Liam Neeson added his voice to the campaign to have the bodies returned to their loved ones saying they were living in a "cruel and inhumane limbo".

Many of the families were gathered at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast yesterday for the launch of the book, produced by the Wave Trauma Centre.

"This is something that should never have happened and should never be allowed to happen again," Mrs O'Loan said.

"While the rest of us want so much from life, the families just want one thing, they want to bring their loved ones home.

"Information passed to the commission is confidential, the families are never told where or who it came from, there will be no police visit, no prosecution.

"The law is there to protect those who come forward and I would appeal to them help bring these boys home to their families."

John McClory from west Belfast went missing in 1978. His sister Eileen said the book provides a permanent record for future generations.

His remains were eventually discovered along with those of Brian McKinney at Colgagh, Inniskeen, Co Monaghan on June 30 1999.

An inquest heard he had been shot in the back of the head but also his skull had been smashed with a heavy object.

"John was only a child - he was 18 and had just started his first job at the site of Mary Peters track," she said.

"He went out to go to work one day and just never came back.

"I will never forget our mother at John's funeral. As we walked together she said to us, 'Hold your head up high, we have nothing to be ashamed of'.

"She was a proud woman. She died nine months later.

"My brother was just a child. He never got to be the person he could have been, never even had a girlfriend.

"I'd loved to have seen him all grown up married with a child of his own but he never got that chance.

Saturday 22 June 2013

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Himalayan Flood:Google app to trace missing people

Google has launched a whole new app “Person Finder” to find missing people in flood affected areas of Uttarakhand in Northern India. The Himalayan flood, lately called the ‘Himalayan Tsunami’ took a heavy toll of life as many people are still missing, while 550 dead bodies have been found in flood affected areas. Constant downpour made things worse and rescue teams are facing severe obstacles. Army helicoptors are not enough to trace missing villagers or travelers. So, Google, the ultimate search engine comes to the rescue to help find missing flood victims. This app will trace people in flood affected areas of Northern India.

The real number of missing people is still under conjecture, as at least 1500 people have been rescued by the army; but 70,000 pilgrims were amassed there and many are still missing. Google desires to trace the missing people by their new app “Google Person Finder”.

“Google Person Finder” is a web application that allows individuals to post and search for the status of relatives or friends affected by a disaster, Google said in a blog post. Google is also trying to include it on social networking sites as more and more people are commenting on the lethal situation on their accounts. The Himalayan flood ravaged Northern India making its residents and pilgrims suffer the incredible force of the flooding. The big stones along with the water caused devastating casualties.

The tool can help trace the missing people in flood-affected regions of Uttarakhand and is available in Hindi and English, it added. All data entered into Google ‘Person Finder‘ is available to the public and searchable by anyone to trace missing persons. The program also lets press agencies, non-governmental agencies and others contribute to the database and receive updates by using the Person Finder APP based on the PFIF open standard.

“Since last week, the state of Uttarakhand in India has been grappling with severe floods. Given that most of these areas in the state are highly inaccessible with intermittent communication, Google Crisis team bring you the Person Finder,” the blog post by Jayanth Mysore, Google APAC Senior Product Manager, said.

The monsoon fury, accompanied with downpour and landslides still kept 50,00 people stranded and the missing people reaching an unbelievable numer. The army is hopeful that giving the people its utmost support, will be aided with the help of Google. Many helplines are opene to take care of pilgrims. Now they just need to know the technique for finding missing people. The devastated people can now hope against hope of finding their loved ones.

People are still being rescued from remote hamlets of Rudraprayag, Chamoli and nook-est corners of Uttarkashi. So, in spite of the destruction, people are still hopeful of finding their relatives or lost family members. So, it’s Google’s noble course to assist in finding the missing ones. Though some still doubt its usefulness, Google developers are eager to trace missing people using this whole new app from remote villages of Uttarakhand. They are eager to combat the Himalayan flood in their own way.

So, the Himalayan flood may strangle the country but it could not snatch the will power of its people. Army men are doing their best to find and rescue trapped people. And now, Google joins hands with new application to trace missing individuals by its “Person Finder” data.

Saturday 22 June 2013

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India monsoon floods kill at least 560; thousands missing

Nearly 600 people have been killed in the Uttarakhand flood devastation, chief minister Vijay Bahuguna has said, while ActionAid warned of thousands of possible deaths.

Four days after a cloudburst almost destroyed Kedarnath, home to one of India's most revered shrines, Bahuguna told CNN-IBN news channel that 556 bodies had been found even as the military and security forces rescued a large number of those stranded in the hills.

The government has so far admitted to only about 200 deaths.

"(A total of) 556 bodies have been recovered and there are reports more could be buried under the debris," the chief minister said. "This kind of disaster has never happened in the Himalayan history."

He said it would "take a long time to rebuild Uttarakhand" and that no pilgrimage to Kedarnath would be possible for at least the next two years.

Debabrat Patra, ActionAid India's regional manager for Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, said the situation in the hill state was "catastrophic".

"Our partners in the region have reported that nearly 5,000 people are still missing in Kedarnath, presumed dead," he said, in a grim forecast of what could turn out to be one of India's worst natural disasters.

Uttarakhand saw over 60 hours of continuous and heavy rains coupled with few incidents of cloudbursts at various locations June 14 to 17, which led to the flooding of the state's main rivers: Alaknanda and Bhagirathi.

According to officials and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists, the largescale flooding had destroyed innumerable hamlets and villages and led to the destruction of major areas such as Kedarnath and Ram Bada.

Vinod Kumar Sharma, who reached Dehradun Friday after being stranded with his family for four days minus food, told IANS there were 15,000 people -- locals and pilgrims besides hundreds of mules — in Kedarnath alone when the calamity took place.

"Barring some, there is no trace of the people and animals," Sharma said. "As of today no one can give a precise figure of the dead and missing. It is impossible."

Chief minister Bahuguna said about 30,000 people had been evacuated till now from the hills. "It is very tragic that so many people have died ... It will take another 15 days to complete evacuation."

In New Delhi, Cabinet secretary Ajit Kumar Seth put the number of those evacuated at about 50,000.

Bahuguna said the rescue operation involving the military, paramilitary forces and civilians was taking time because roads had been badly damaged.

ActionAid said nearly 75,000 pilgrims were still stranded. Both ActionAid and the cabinet secretary warned of fresh rains in the hill state from Monday. This would further hinder the rescue operation.

Chandragupta Vikram, the VHP's Dehradun president, told IANS that human life was obliterated in Kedarnath "within just 15 minutes".

"There was a huge explosion," Vikram said. "It happened behind the Kedarnath shrine. It turned out to be a cloudburst. Suddenly the place was overwhelmed by water.

"With the water came huge boulders and tonnes of mud. It took just 15 minutes for the destruction at Kedarnath."

A disaster management official said although 45 helicopters were engaged in rescuing people, re-fuelling was causing concern as they have to fly to Dehradun for fuelling.

"There are enough choppers. That is not the problem. The real issue is making fuel available for them, that is something that we are looking into carefully," M Shashidhar Reddy, vice-chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), told IANS.

He said no one anticipated devastation on such a huge scale.

Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde said some 50,000 people were still stranded in Uttarakhand and many could be buried in the debris across the hills.

Lt Gen Anil Chait of the army's central command said his men would do their best to rescue everyone.

"No more people will die there. We will rescue all those who are stranded. We will trudge every trail, every footpath and bring home anybody who is trapped," he told the media.

Saturday 22 June 2013

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Dead in the water

It’s been all of five years since the sinking of the MV Princess of the Stars and, like other disasters involving Philippine vessels, there is yet no closure.

The 23,824-ton ship left Manila at 8 a.m. on June 21, 2008, on its way to Cebu City, and sank off the coast of Sibuyan island in Romblon at noon, after being buffeted by waves whipped up by Typhoon “Frank.”

Witnesses said the waves were as tall as mountains.

It would later be established that the vessel owned by Sulpicio Lines Inc. and skippered by Capt. Florencio Marimon had set sail despite the bad weather after getting clearance from the Philippine Coast Guard. Some 860 people were on board.

In the flurry of activity that followed, initial rescue operations yielded only 52 survivors.

Divers of the Philippine and US Navies circled the wreck, knocked repeatedly on the hull, and heard nothing. Soon after, the operational focus shifted to retrieval as corpses were found floating in the surrounding waters. Divers who managed to get into parts of the ship glimpsed luggage and bodies floating in the shell, but could not reach them. The dimensions of the tragedy became clear: Most of the missing were likely trapped inside the Princess of the Stars when it sank.

The magnitude of loss was horrific; among the dead were more than 20 children. Alexander de la Cruz lost his 8-year-old daughter, Angeline, who had just come back from the United States. Her last words to him were haunting: “I love you, Papa.” Other stories of loss were no less sorrowful. Jimmy Relativo was on board with his pregnant girlfriend, Roselyn Ligan, and they were on their way to inform her father of their nuptial plans. “I was thrown overboard and got separated from her,” Relativo said. “When I glanced back to the ship, she was gone.”

Over 300 bodies would be found, leaving more than 400 still missing. For many of those who lost loved ones in the sinking and have yet to find remains to bury or mourn over, the interminable wait drags on.

Early this month, Estella Jeli traveled to Romblon with officers and staff of the Public Attorney’s Office in the undimmed hope of finding the remains of her siblings, Jonil and Jackie, 17 and 7, respectively, when the Princess of the Stars went down. “We don’t mind [the long wait],” Jeli said. “We will not stop looking for them. All we want is to give them a decent burial.”

For years the hull of the vessel jutted out of the sea off Sibuyan—a grim reminder of what had transpired there. In 2011 the hull was finally hauled away, but half of the ship remains underwater, filled with secrets.

Salvage divers have since gone down to recover what they could and surfaced bearing fragments of lives—a gold wedding ring, passports, seaman’s documents, a school ID, bank passbooks. “These only strengthen our hope of recovering the hundreds of bodies still down there,” said PAO chief Persida Acosta. The salvaging company has said it would take three to five years to open each cabin, a dangerous undertaking by itself.

Sulpicio Lines is no stranger to maritime disaster.

In December 1987 its MV Doña Paz collided with the oil tanker MT Vector, killing 4,000 people.

The incident remains on record as the worst maritime disaster in peacetime. Three other Sulpicio ships have also gone down.

For the sinking of the Princess of the Stars, multimillion-peso law suits were filed, the Department of Justice supported the filing of charges of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide against Sulpicio vice president Edgar Go and the ship’s captain Marimon, who remains missing to this day.

But, to the outrage of the grieving families, the Court of Appeals has cleared Go of the charges. In February 2010 Sulpicio Lines Inc. ceased to exist; unthinkably, the company changed its name to Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp. An official said the move was a way of starting over.

The company has moved on, but the grieving families have no such luxury. Their loss remains ever open—a wound that does not heal.

Five years after the fact, the wreck of the brightly named Princess of the Stars continues to remind Filipinos of the dangers they face during the length of the typhoon season, of the exceedingly slow grinding of the wheels of justice, of the closure lost at sea. Saturday 22 June 2013

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Ten dead, 20 missing as migrant boat sinks off Gabon

The boat had left Nigeria and was within 15 minutes of arriving in Gabon’s capital Libreville when it went down late on Tuesday night. Gabonese authorities rescued 23 survivors and the search continued into Friday.

“Last night we had six bodies and since this morning we have found four more, which makes a total of 10 recovered bodies. The immigrants drowned,” said a member of the nautical brigade of Gabon’s national police, who asked not to be named.

Police said the survivors – from Benin, Nigeria and Burkina Faso – claimed to have each paid the boat’s crew up to 500,000 CFA francs ($1,000) to take them to Gabon, where they hoped to find work.

Local newspapers reported that the human traffickers attempted to extort more money from the immigrants and had begun throwing those who could not pay overboard.

Gabonese authorities said they were investigating the cause of the sinking.

Oil-rich Gabon’s relatively high wages for manual laborers have made the tiny central African nation a popular destination for regional migrants.

But entrance requirements are strict, pushing many to enter the country illegally, often using the dangerous sea route from Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria.

At least 45 people died when a wooden boat carrying 166 migrants bound for Gabon capsized off Nigeria in March.

Some 35 people taking the same route died after their boat sank off Cameroon in 2008.

Saturday 22 June 2013

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