Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Powerful earthquake hits near Papua New Guinea

A powerful earthquake rocked the South Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea on Wednesday, officials said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake measured magnitude 7.1 and was located 40 miles west-southwest of Panguna in Papua New Guinea. It struck at 8:31 p.m. at a depth of 36 miles, it said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a destructive Pacific-wide tsunami was unlikely.

Earthquakes are common in Papua New Guinea. The country lies on the "Ring of Fire" — an arc of earthquake and volcanic activity that stretches around the Pacific Rim.

A magnitude-7.0 earthquake on the northern coast in 1998 generated a large tsunami that swamped several villages, killing about 2,200 people

Wednesday 16 October 2013

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More bodies found in Bohol; quake death toll hits 151

The death toll from the magnitude-7.2 earthquake that struck Central Visayas ballooned to 151 as search and rescue teams recovered more bodies in Bohol province on Wednesday.

In an updated report from Chief Superintendnt Danilo Constantino, director of the Central Visayas police regional office, said that a total of 141 bodies have been recovered from the rubble in quake-hit areas in Bohol.

Constantino said nine fatalities were also recorded in Cebu province and one in Siquijor.

The regional police director added that a total of 302 people have been reported injured during the powerful quake, which struck at 8:21 a.m. on Tuesday.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) had also reported that a total of 23 people have been reported missing in Bohol.

Police Officer 3 John Legaspi, operations clerk of the Bohol Provincial Police Office, told reporters in a phone interview that the fatalities were recorded from 25 towns and majority of the bodies were recovered in the town of Loon.

The agency said that at least 2.8 million people were affected by the quake in three provinces in Central Visayas, including Bohol and Cebu, and more than 10,000 people have been brought to evacuation centers.

The NDRRMC has initially pegged the damage from the earthquake at P75 million. It said P57.8 million of the figure was for the bridges damaged in Bohol and P17.67 million for bridges damaged in Cebu.

During the NDRRMC's briefing on Wednesday afternoon, an official of the Department of Education said 30 schools in two divisions in Bohol and Cebu were damaged by the earthquake while three more schools are being used as evacuation centers.

The education official said that classes in selected schools in Bohol and Cebu have been suspended until Friday.

The Department of Health had also reported that 11 government-run hospitals were damaged by the quake.

The epicenter of the earthquake, which struck at 8:21 a.m., was traced six kilometers southwest of Sagbayan town in Bohol. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology earlier reported that the epicenter was traced nearest Carmen town.

The quake was felt strongest at Intensity 7 in Tagbilaran City, Cebu City, Lapu Lapu City, Mandaue City, Toledo City, Carcar City and Naga City (in Cebu).

Wednesday 16 October 2013

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Plane crashes in Laos, 39 people killed

A Lao Airlines plane on an internal flight from the capital, Vientiane, to the south of the country, crashed into the Mekong in the late afternoon, China's Xinhua state news agency said, citing the airline.

The ART twin-turbo plane flight QV301 with about 40 passengers on board crashed into the Mekong River as it was coming in to land at the airport in Champassak province in southern Laos due to bad weather.

A television station in neighbouring Thailand said 39 people had been killed.

Airline and government officials in Laos were not immediately available for comment.

The plane left Wattay airport in Vientiane at 2.45pm and crashed at 4pm, the official said.

It was unknown if there were any Thai passengers on the flight.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

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DNA from LA area immigrants could solve painful mysteries from Guatemala's civil war

Javier Alvarez doesn’t remember much from the time his father went missing from their home in Guatemala in 1982, at the height of the violence during that country's civil war.

He was only ten years old then. But he remembers the hushed conversations between his mother and grandfather, the hand-wringing as they tried to come to grips with his father’s kidnapping.

“I remember they told me that my father had disappeared, and my mother and grandfather were going around in circles," said Alvarez, who now lives near downtown Los Angeles with his family. "They were asking them for ransom, but no one came for it, for the money."

His father never reappeared.

More than three decades later, Alvarez joined the audience in a meeting hall at the Central American Resource Center near downtown, filled with fellow Guatemalan refugees.

They were there to learn about a project that’s been using DNA to identify the bodies of some of Guatemala’s roughly 45,000 wartime desaparecidos - the disappeared – most of them kidnapped by Guatemalan military. They are among the estimated 200,000 casualties of the lengthy war, which ended in 1996 after 36 years.

Unraveling the mysteries of a war

Since 2004, the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation has been exhuming and identifying the bodies of desaparecidos, excavating clandestine mass graves and military sites. The non-profit NGO receives U.S. and international funding. In 2008, they began collecting DNA from family members of the missing in Guatemala. So far they’ve identified more than 3,000 bodies, about 200 of them through DNA.

“We wanted to give a voice to the disappeared," said Fredy Peccerelli, a forensic anthropologist and director of the Guatemala City-based organization. "We wanted to give a voice to those bodies. We wanted the bodies, those disappeared people, to talk directly to their families so we could connect with them. We wanted them to remember that their loved one is missing, and they need to look for them.”

Peccerelli's family was personally affected by the war. His uncle was among those who disappeared and was never heard from again. His immediate family fled to the United States after his father was threatened, settling in New York. Peccerelli grew up in Brooklyn.

So far, the DNA bank has met with relative success in Guatemala, where Peccerelli says they have been receiving more than 200 DNA samples a month from families with missing loved ones. Some families have gone so far as to lend their names and photos to a campaign dubbed "Mi nombre no es XX" (My name is not XX), referring to a term used in Guatemala for unidentified bodies, similar to "John Doe."

Reaching out to immigrants in the United States

The idea now is to make inroads in the U.S., starting with Los Angeles, Guatemala's largest expatriate community. So far, the group has collected only a couple dozen DNA samples here. But Peccerelli hopes more immigrants will participate now that recent trials of accused Guatamalan war criminals - including two in the U.S. - have revived public interest.

Not everyone affected is willing to come forward. Many of those who survived the war carry their trauma silently, trying to bury the past, said Patricia Foxen, an anthropologist on the board of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission. She said it's especially complicated for the families of desaparecidos, who may never know what happened to their loved ones.

“It’s extremely difficult for them, because sometimes they are not actually sure what happened to their disappeared family member," Foxen said. "When I was doing my field work in Guatemala, for example, the guerrillas were being demobilized in these camps, and people the community that I was living in would ask me to take pictures because they thought I might be able to find their sons and husbands who had disappeared fifteen years or twenty years beforehand. I thought it was astonishing that they still had hope that they might still show up.”

None did. It’s presumed that those who went missing have long been dead. Foxen says even today, even for those who moved thousands of miles north, "it is really hard for people to live with that big question mark every single day.”

It’s a question that Javier Alvarez wants to put to rest. At the recent community meeting in Los Angeles, Alvarez sat down to have a DNA swab taken from the inside of his cheek. Afterward, he grew emotional, recalling his childhood.

Life after his father disappeared was tough. His mother was forced to raise six children alone, the oldest child just 12. Eventually they all made it to the United States. Alvarez married and now has a family of his own. But the loss of his father still haunts him.

“All of this makes me glad to know there is a possibility that I can find my father again after so much time," he said, trying to hold back tears. "You can imagine – in life, you miss your father, your mother. I would have liked to have enjoyed being with him, from the time I was small to when I grew up.”

Peccerelli says he used to think finding and burying the bodies of loved ones would provide closure to these families. Now he’s not so sure. He recalled what one man he helped said afterward.

”One of them said, ‘I had a purpose before, because my father was missing," Peccerelli said. "And he was found, and I'm very thankful. I don’t know what to do with myself now, because my entire life was about looking for him.' "

But the work continues. Peccerelli and his team will return to Southern California for the December sentencing date of Jorge Sosa in Riverside County. Sosa is an accused Guatemalan war criminal, recently convicted of U.S. immigration fraud. He will likely be stripped of his U.S. citizenship and face eventual deportation to Guatemala, to stand trial over accusations that he took part in a brutal 1982 massacre of civilians in the small village of Dos Erres.

The Guatemalan forensic team will come equipped with DNA kits, hoping that among those who are following Jorge Sosa's sentencing, they'll find more refugees like Alvarez who are seeking answers.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

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Philippines quake toll hits 107

The 7.1-magnitude earthquake smashed the central island of Bohol on Tuesday morning, triggering landslides that engulfed entire homes, ripping apart bridges and tearing down centuries-old churches.

The national disaster agency said on Wednesday that the number of people confirmed killed on Bohol and neighbouring islands had climbed from 93 to 107, and more bad news was expected as rescue workers were yet to reach some villages and towns.

"Our efforts today are focused on reaching isolated areas. We suspect individuals are trapped out there and we have to conduct search and rescue," National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council spokesman Reynaldo Balido told AFP.

With destroyed bridges, ripped-open roads and power outages fragmenting the island of about one million people, Balido said authorities were struggling to reach isolated communities and had no idea how bad the damage was in some areas.

"We don't even have an estimate... we are just assuming that since there were collapsed buildings, we must search for them," Balido said, when asked how many people remained missing.

At Loon, a small coastal town of about 40,000 people just 20km from the epicentre of the earthquake, shocked survivors wandered around the rubble of collapsed buildings looking for relatives.

Farmer Serafin Megallen said he dug with his hands, brick-by-brick, to retrieve his mother-in-law and cousin from the rubble of their home on Tuesday.

"They were alive but they died of their injuries three hours later. There was no rescue that came, we had to rely on neighbours for help," he told AFP.

Megallen said a neighbour with a truck tried to drive the bodies to Loon's funeral parlour, only to find out the bridge across a river on the way was destroyed.

The bodies were then taken across the river aboard a boat.

"But no one will give them last rites because the church was also destroyed," he said.

Ten churches, many of them dating back centuries to Spanish colonial rule of the Philippines, were destroyed or badly damaged on Bohol and the neighbouring island of Cebu.

Loon's limestone Our Lady of Light church was reduced to mounds of crushed rocks.

"We're trying our best to keep hopes up, but in this desperate situation there is nothing much we can do beyond giving comforting words," local priest Father Tomas Balakayo told AFP.

"I try to be strong but this is terrible, what have these people done to deserve this?"

More than 800 aftershocks had been recorded, including one on Wednesday morning with a magnitude of 5.1, according to national disaster authorities.

Most of the confirmed deaths were on Bohol, which is one of the most popular tourist islands in the Philippines because of its beautiful beaches, rolling "Chocolate Hills" and tiny "tarsier" primates.

Nine people died on neighbouring Cebu island, home to the Philippines' second-biggest city of the same name.

No foreign tourists were reported killed.

Tuesday was a national holiday for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, and that may have reduced casualties because schools and offices are closed.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

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Search for missing in Trishuli micro-bus plunge continues

Search for those who went missing in the Trishuli river, following the Monday´s micro-bus accident is underway.

Eleven people are still missing in the river. The accident occurred when a micro-bus (Ba.2 Kha. 2598) was heading towards Kathmandu from Narayagadh fell into the river at Darechowk-9 along the Prithivi Highway on Monday, the day of Bijaya Dashami.

An Armed Police Force (APF) squad from Kurintar-based Disaster Management Training Center is searching for the missing with the help of locals.

Two people including an Australian woman tourist had died and nine injured in the accident.

APF personnel Bhupendra Poudel, Sunita Dhakal, 35, of Bharatpur-12, Khemlal Gurung of around 35 years of age, a man of around 40 years of age from Gaidakot-8, Dinesh Tiwari, 12, from Taklung-3, Gorkha, micro- bus helper Kapil Pandey,16, of Naubise-4, Dhading are among those hurt in the accident, the office said.

Of the injured, one has already returned to home after treatment and condition of a man with Gurung surname is critical. The injured are undergoing treatment at the Bharatpur-based College of Medical Sciences. The bodies of deceased have been kept in the Bharatpur Hospital. A total of 21 passengers were onboard the microbus, the police said.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

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Examining why hostesses and sex workers go missing in Japan

On October 8, Tokyo Metropolitan Police arrested two construction company employees for hiding a dead body found inside a building in Shibuya Ward scheduled to be demolished. As reported in the Sankei Shimbun, the body had been inside the structure for about five years.

While such discoveries may not be typical, a large number of people go missing in Japan each year. Evening tabloid Nikkan Gendai (Oct. 12) reports that approximately 81,111 people vanished in 2012.

Of them, 28,924 were women. As far as age, the majority were under 20 years old. In the average case, the person will have later been found to have returned home or committed suicide. Even so, about 1,400 cases remain unsolved.

Like host club employee Masamichi Tsuchida, who disappeared from his home in 2010 and was later found to have been murdered, some who go unaccounted for work in the adult-entertainment trade. In attempting to understand why, the tabloid speaks with fuzoku writer Kazuo Kajiyama.

As far as a kyaba-jo (hostess) or fuzoku-jo (sex-club worker), the main reason is debts owed to host clubs, says the writer.

“In order to pay off the bills, the girls will be sold off to soapland bathhouses or to a ‘snack’ club that engages in prostitution, such as those in Sakae, Chiba Prefecture,” says Kajiyama. “The girls are confined and not allowed to communicate with anyone. I also hear of a lot of cases where they’ll wind up selling their bodies near casinos in Korea.”

Gangsters also purchase girls heavily in debt. Many will undergo plastic surgery such that even their parents will not be able to recognize their faces. They will then be put to work in adult video (AV) industry.

Freelance writer Taizo Ebina says that some hostesses are taken off the premises by regular customers, abducted and sold to brokers in various parts of Asia for one million yen each.

“Runaway girls will be imprisoned in one-room apartments,” says Ebina. “They will engage in ‘live chat’ Internet sessions in which they show their genitals. They’ll also work as prostitutes in ‘on board brothels’ for passengers on ships. In most of these cases, the girls will be hooked on stimulant drugs.”

Wednesday 16 October 2013

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Cargo ship hits seawall off South Korea; 9 dead, 2 missing

A cargo ship hit a seawall off South Korea's southeastern coast and partly sank in an accident that killed nine crew members and left two missing, coast guard officers said Wednesday. Eight crew members were rescued.

The ship is owned by a Chinese firm and flagged in Panama, and its crew is nearly all Chinese with one Vietnamese.

The 8,461-ton ship had anchored off the port city of Pohang but high waves forced it against the seawall Tuesday afternoon, a coast guard statement said.

All 19 people on board were listed as missing about 14 hours after the accident as winds and waves hampered rescue efforts.

Early Wednesday, coast guard rescuers found eight sailors either floating in the sea or waiting for help on the front of the ship. Most of the vessel has sunk, coast guard officers said. They spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to speak to the media on this matter. The rescued sailors were wearing life jackets, the officers said.

The coast guard also collected the dead bodies of nine crew members but two are still missing, the officers said.

China's official Xinhua News Agency said the ship, the CHENGLU15, belonged to China's Lishen International Shipping Group Corp. in Zhejiang province.

The ship had unloaded its freight and was set to leave for Japan. The coast guard officers said the ship was carrying about 130 tons of bunker oil and diesel fuel.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

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Typhoon, mudslides kill 14 in Japan; 50 missing

A typhoon caused deadly mudslides that buried people and destroyed homes on a Japanese island Wednesday before sweeping up the Pacific coast, grounding hundreds of flights and disrupting Tokyo's transportation during the morning rush. At least 14 deaths were reported and more than 50 people were missing.

Hardest hit was Izu Oshima island about 75 miles south of Tokyo. Rescuers found 13 bodies, most of them buried by mudslides, police and town officials said. Dozens of homes were destroyed, and more than 50 people are missing. "We have no idea how bad the extent of damage could be," town official Hinani Uematsu said.

One woman from Tokyo died after falling into a river and being washed 6 miles downriver to Yokohama, police said. Two sixth-grade boys and another person were missing on Japan's main island, Honshu, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.

More than 350 homes have been damaged or destroyed, including 283 on Izu Oshima, it said.

Typhoon Wipha, which stayed offshore in the Pacific, had sustained winds of 78 mph.

More than 30 inches of rain fell on Izu Oshima during a 24-hour period ending Wednesday morning, a record since record keeping began in 1991.

The rainfall was particularly heavy before dawn, the kind in which "you can't see anything or hear anything," Japan Meteorological Agency official Yoshiaki Yano said.

Izu Oshima is the largest island in the Izu chain southwest of Tokyo. It has one of Japan's most active volcanoes, Mount Mihara, and is a major base for growing camellias. About 8,200 people live on the island, which is accessible by ferry from Tokyo.

As a precaution, the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, crippled by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, released tons of rainwater that were being held behind protective barriers around storage tanks for radioactive water. Tokyo Electric Power Co. said only water below an allowable level of radioactivity was released, which Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority allowed Tuesday. During an earlier typhoon in September, rainwater spilled out before it could be tested.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

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