Monday, 11 November 2013

Typhoon Haiyan: reports of mass graves in Iloilo, difficulty coping with the number of deaths

There is no functioning morgue here, so people have been collecting the dead from Typhoon Haiyan and storing them where they can — in this case, St. Michael The Archangel Chapel.

Ten bodies have been placed on wooden pews and across a pale white floor slick with blood, debris and water. One appears to have foamed at the mouth. One has been wrapped in a white sheet, tied to a thick green bamboo pole so that people could carry it, and placed on the floor.

One body is small, and entirely covered in a red blanket.

"This is my son," says Nestor Librando, a red-eyed, 31-year-old carpenter. "He drowned."

Librando had taken refuge in a military compound nearby by the time the typhoon's storm surge poured in Friday morning. For two hours, the water rose around him. He held his 2-year-old son in one arm, his 3-year-old son in the other.

But the torrent proved too strong, and swept the family out of the building. The water rose above Librando's head and he struggled to swim. His younger son slipped from his hands and was immediately pulled under the water.

"I found his body later, behind the house" in the courtyard, sunken in the mud, he says.

"This is the worst thing I've ever seen in my life, the worst thing I could imagine," Librando says. "I brought him to this chapel because there was nowhere else to take him. I wanted Jesus Christ to bless him."

The chapel is close to the Tacloban airport, in an area where the storm felled and shredded a vast bank of trees. The water moved with such force that light poles beside a dirt road are bent to the ground at right angles.

The airport partially reopened on Monday 11 November, three days after the typhoon, but only for flights carrying relief supplies and equipment. The airport has also become a makeshift morgue for the growing number of bodies.

At a lakeshore west of the airport terminal, three bodies lay among the rocks. A man, wearing blue shorts and lying face down. A child with yellowed arms grasping skyward. A tiny baby, sprawled on its back.

More bodies lay along a muddy beach nearby. A dead man in jeans leans forward, his head in the water, his back feet somehow perched frozen above the sand and mud behind. Beside him, a child in a diaper lays partially covered by a palm frond, beside wood, debris and a green crate labeled San Miguel Brewery.

There are survivors here, too, including 22-year-old Junick de la Rea. He says the water swept him and five of his relatives off a rooftop where they had fled, but they all survived by grabbing a bunch of plastic and metal containers that happened to float by.

"Please, can you help me?" de la Rea asks a reporter. "I want you to send a message to a friend of mine," a friend who works for the German Red Cross Union.

His message: "We survived. I want to say we survived. ... We lost everything. But we are still alive — and we need help."

Bodies recovered in Iloilo buried in mass graves

“I just want to find my husband and bring him home,” said Margie Molina.

But she was also hoping that her search would not end at the morgue of Crisme Funeral Services where 20 unclaimed cadavers of victims of “supertyphoon Yolanda” (international name Haiyan) have been brought since Friday.

Margie failed to find her husband Eliseo Molina Jr. and was told to look for him at the municipal cemetery where mass graves were being dug for the decomposing bodies.

She rushed to the cemetery along with Edgie Francisco who was also looking for his father Eduardo Francisco. She feared the worst for her husband and worried how she would cope with such a loss, with three children aged 8, 7, and 4 years old to raise.

Eliseo Molina and Eduardo Francisco were crew members of the fishing boat “Segundo Wheeler,” which capsized near Apad Bay in Estancia at the height of the onslaught of the typhoon last Friday.

The crew had sought refuge at the bay but the strong winds threw the boat up three times before it was slammed upside down, according to Margie, quoting accounts of surviving colleagues of her husband.

Estancia, 153 kilometers northeast of Iloilo City, was among the worst hit towns in Iloilo.

Municipal officials have reported the recovery of 71 bodies as of Monday morning, more than half of the 133 fatalities reported for the entire Iloilo province.

The unclaimed bodies, including about 25 fishermen believed to be from Masbate, were buried in mass graves on Sunday. The fishermen died after their boats anchored at the port of Estancia were thrown up and slammed against the port by a storm surge.

“We are still picking dead bodies from the sea,” said Erol Acosta, municipal budget officer.

At the coastline, the smell of decomposing bodies mingled with diesel fuel odor. A hand stuck out from the debris.

The storm surge broke moorings of a power barge of the National Power Corp. (Napocor) and slammed the barge against the coastline, crushing several houses. Residents said bodies were still pinned under the barge.

The barge leaked diesel fuel, which coated the coastline and has been threatening the health of residents and marine life.

The barge has a maximum capacity of 1.2 million liters of diesel fuel, according to James Abayon, Napocor maintenance officer.

Coast Guard personnel were rushing the putting up of more oil spill booms to prevent the spread of the oil spill.

Estancia Mayor Cordero said they did not know where to evacuate the residents affected by the oil spill because even schools and other buildings, which were supposed to be evacuation centers were destroyed.

The town, known as the “Alaska of the Philippines” because of its seafood industry and popularity as a fish trading center, has been paralyzed after the typhoon cut off electricity and communications.

The first relief assistance started to arrive only late Sunday afternoon, two days after the supertyphoon, because roads were blocked by uprooted trees and electric posts.

Only a few roads have been cleared of debris, fallen trees and electric posts even in the town center as town officials grappled with the overwhelming destruction and the number of residents seeking assistance. Many villages were still inaccessible from the town center.

Residents were dependent on two water refilling stations for potable water and rice and food was running out.

“At least 99 percent of houses and other structures were destroyed or damaged,” Cordero said.

Several other northern towns of Iloilo have been devastated and are desperate for food, water and other relief assistance. Most of the province was still without electricity and access to communication.

The delivery of relief assistance has also been hampered by impassable roads, with many portions of the national highway from Iloilo City littered with fallen trees.

Many electric posts were toppled and thrown from one side of the highway to the other. Electric lines were being used to hang clothes by residents who lost their homes and were staying along the road.

Government agencies have sent initial food assistance to island-barangays by helicopter and by Navy boats because thousands of motorboats were destroyed, cutting off the island-barangays from the mainland.

Monday 11 November 2013

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APFSL sets record with relentless work

The Andhra Pradesh Forensic Science Laboratory (APFSL) had a point to prove in the aftermath of the horrendous Mahbubnagar bus inferno that charred 45 bodies beyond recognition.

Sharada, the in-charge director of the laboratory which will become four decades old the next year, proudly claims, “We had to do the tests under a lot of pressure and we did it in a record time of seven days.”

The government had said the process of DNA testing would take as many as 15 days.

According to the director, her team worked day and night to solve one of the most challenging tasks. “No one had any Deepavali leave or even the weekly offs. We worked relentlessly. In fact, some of us fell ill too but the work did not halt. We were relieved only after all the bodies were identified,” said the in-charge director.

APFSL which mostly investigates crime cases, had to divide its resources into five teams in for this case-collection of clues and samples from the mishap scene, a team working from the lab, one for results and interpretation, one for preparation of DNA report and for dispatch. “In previous cases that we had handled, we could gather clues like clothes, ornaments, etc. Here, we were strictly directed only to consider DNA and not any preconceived notions,” she pointed out.

The lab had to collect as many as 500 to 600 samples and sub-samples from the 42 charred bodies in order to establish their identities. “We could have finished the task much earlier. But, in one case, only one kin had submitted his samples. Hence, once we identified the DNA, we sent it to CDFD for cross checking to do away with any ambiguity,” she stated.

Funds crunch, which almost every government department complains of, according to her was not a major issue with the state government’s timely response. She said that her technicians efficiently utilised available DNA kits and the government also showed no slackness in supplying them adequate resources.

Speaking about the pressure they underwent while investigating one of the gravest accidents, she opined that the initial chaos among families and their pain also served as the impetus for the technicians to speed up the process.

She said the process of collecting the DNA involved breaking the cell wall, then the nuclear membrane, followed by collecting suitable tissues from skin, bones and muscles. This, she said was the only tedious task as most of the bodies were totally charred. “It was a relentless task of 72 hours without breaks for extracting the DNAs. Rest of the things just followed. With this, we have proved that we are prepared to face any such situations,” she stated.

Monday 11 November 2013

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Zimbabwe: Ethanol tanker fire DNA samples taken

Samples for 13 victims of the Chisumbanje ethanol tanker inferno were transferred to Harare from Mutare last Thursday where the DNA profiling is to be conducted by a team of medical experts.

The team, which is being led by Africa Institute of Biomedical Science Technology (AiBST) founder Professor Collen Masimirembwa, took tissues and blood samples from 19 relatives of the victims.

The team requires six weeks to carry out tests and then release the results.

Acting Manicaland police traffic co-ordinator Chief Inspector Cyprian Mukahanana confirmed that the team had left Mutare.

"They left here (Mutare) this morning for Harare where the tests will be conducted," Chief Insp Mukahanana said.

"The experts said they need six weeks to conduct the process before releasing the results."

Chief Insp Mukahanana said the relatives would be advised when the results were out or if there was need for them to assist during the process.

Police in Mutare said two families, the Muyambos and Mariyas, managed to identify the four victims, bringing the total number of those who have been identified to 12.

Chief Inspector Mukahanana said a post-mortem was conducted on the four bodies and the relatives ferried them to Chipinge for burial.

The Muyambo family identified three of its relatives, while the Mariya family managed to identify one.

Twenty four people were burnt, some beyond recognition, when the ethanol tanker collided head-on with a Mazda T35 truck carrying mourners, resulting in a huge inferno.

There has been confusion in the identification of the charred remains of some of the victims, with their relatives at one stage suggesting mass burial after they failed to identify them.

They later opted for DNA tests, prompting Government to engage the team of experts.

Monday 11 November 2013

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Two weeks to identify bodies of Indonesian Army copter crash victims

It will take the Indonesian authorities about two weeks to identify the bodies of 13 passengers of an Indonesian Army (TNI-AD) helicopter which crashed in Malinau, North Kalimantan near the Indonesian-Malaysian border on Saturday.

The process to identify the victims involved forensic examination and matching their DNA with that of their next-of-kin, said TNI-AD Flight Centre Commandant, Brig-Jen M. Afifuddin on Monday.

Meanwhile, TNI-AD Chief of Staff General Budiman said the helicopter which was ferrying 19 passengers crashed into a 10-metre deep ravine amidst strong wind.

The dead comprised eight civilians and five military personnel.

The six survivors comprised two Army personnel and four civilians.

“The survivors, who suffered burn injuries, have been evacuated to the Tarakan Naval Hospital,” he said when contacted from Samarinda.

Regarding the removal of the bodies of the dead victims, Legowo said it could not be done on Saturday due to a limited number of helicopters and the fading light. The operation to remove the bodies will resume on Sunday.

Legowo said the helicopter crashed in thick jungle amid strong winds.

The East Kalimantan Police chief spokesman, Sr. Comr. Fajar Setiawan said the ill-fated helicopter took off from Tarakan city at about 10 a.m. local time, initially with six passengers of whom three were civilians.

“The helicopter then landed at Apauping village to take another 10 residents who were to help in the construction of the Malinau-Sarawak border guard post”. Fajar told Antara from Samarinda.

The helicopter left the village at about 10:20 a.m local time carrying 19 people on board, including three crew, and logistics heading to the Malinau-Serawak border.

“The distance between the village and the post is very far and could only be reached in three days if attempted overland,” said Fajar. “Therefore, logistics supply has to be carried out by air.”

The helicopter crashed near the post’s soccer field as it was about to land.

Earlier, Indonesian Military (TNI) chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Iskandar Sitompul confirmed the helicopter had crashed and, based on initial investigations, it was suspected the helicopter had suffered a power loss.

“The helicopter was heading to its destination when it suffered a sudden power loss causing it to crash and burst into flames,” he told Antara in Jakarta.

Iskandar said the helicopter was relatively new, being between two and three years old. There have already been two serious incidents involving Mi-17s this year.

Monday 11 November 2013

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Rescuers race to reach cut-off communities with many missing from Typhoon Haiyan

Rescue workers in the Philippines were on Monday engaged in a desperate struggle to reach areas devastated by 'Super' Typhoon Haiyan, amid fears the estimated death toll of 10,000 people could rise even further.

Even in a country inured to natural disasters, the sheer scale of the destruction wrought by ‘Super’ Typhoon Haiyan has left everyone from the estimated 9.5 million people affected by the storm, to the government and aid agencies, reeling in shock.

“Absolute bedlam” is how the Chairman of the Philippines Red Cross Richard Gordon described the situation in Tacloban City. The worst-hit area so far reached, Tacloban is where the majority of the 10,000 people believed killed are thought to have perished.

“There are an awful lot of dead people all over the place,” said Mr Gordon.

Three days after Haiyan sent tsunami-like, five metre-high waves crashing into Tacloban, destroying virtually every building in the city, corpses of both people and animals litter the streets.

Food, water and medicine are in desperately short supply and shocked survivors wander the city begging for food and water from anyone who might have it.

As the stench of rotting, bloated bodies floats through the air, the chances of disease spreading through the city’s surviving population increase by the hour.

The International Red Cross said the figure of 10,000 deaths is “realistic”. Now, the Philippines media is calling Haiyan the worst disaster to have ever hit their country of more than seven thousand separate islands.

Widespread looting and disorder in Tacloban, as starving and homeless people search for food and water, has only added to the difficulties being experienced by the authorities and aid agencies.

“The unstable security situation is a clear indication of the desperation on the ground,” Marie Madamba-Nunez, Oxfam’s spokesperson in Manila, told the Telegraph. “There have been reports of people attacking relief convoys and even helicopters are not being spared.”

With so many remote communities still cut-off from the outside world, there are real fears that the final death toll will be far higher.

Only now are the first relief teams arriving in eastern Samar province, the first place in the central Philippines to experience the full force of Haiyan’s fearsome winds and raging floods.

Estimates of the dead on Samar are already in the hundreds and thousands more are missing.

“Access has been very difficult and it’s only today that we have managed to get a team into Borongan in eastern Samar. A helicopter was able to land them,” said Mrs Madamba-Nunez.

But the coastal town of Guiuan, where Haiyan first made landfall on Friday, remains completely isolated.

Aerial footage has revealed that much of the town of 40,000 people has been flattened, raising the grim prospect that the number of dead there may match that of the destroyed city of Tacloban.

“The roads are completely impassable and there is no contact with the town, so I believe the navy will have to try and reach Guiuan,” said Mrs Madamba-Nunez.

Other severely-affected areas in the Visayas island group to the west of Tacloban and Samar are also still unreached.

“We’re still unable to get through to Roxas City. The water on the roads is hip-high and electrical posts and trees are across all the roads,” Kendra Clegg, one of a four-person UN disaster and assessment team on Panay Island in the Visayas, told the Telegraph.

The mood of the survivors too, is becoming darker. “Some people are complaining about the lack of supplies,” said Ms Clegg. “People are definitely more sullen than they were yesterday.”

Over 630,000 people have been displaced by Haiyan, and are camping out in makeshift evacuation centres, or simply sleeping in the open.

“98 per cent of the houses are destroyed in parts of northern Cebu Island, but the main problem is the lack of water,” said Tata Abella, an Oxfam worker in the town of Daanbantayan on Cebu’s far northern tip.

“People are drinking from secondary sources like wells, but these are not really safe so there’s a real risk of people falling ill.”

More than anything, the huge calamity in Tacloban means that far fewer resources are reaching the other regions devastated by Haiyan.

“The destruction in Tacloban is appalling,” said the UN’s Ms Clegg, “but it’s overshadowing the other places that were hit by the typhoon.”

Monday 11 November 2013

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Storms kills 100 in Somalia's Puntland, more missing

At least 100 people were killed over the weekend when a tropical cyclone hit Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region, President Abdirahman Mohamud Farole said on Monday, appealing for help from aid agencies.

"A heavy storm hit Bandarbeyle and Eyl towns on Saturday and Sunday. About a hundred people died. Hundreds of houses and livestock were swept by the floods into the ocean," Farole told reporters in the capital Garowe.

"We urge United Nations aid agencies to assist the victims. As Puntland, we have established a committee to investigate the loss and damage. Electricity, communication and fishing boats were all destroyed."

The government of Puntland said in a statement that hundreds of people remained unaccounted for and declared a natural disaster emergency.

Puntland spans the relatively calm north of Somalia and has largely escaped the worst of Somalia's upheaval of the last 20 years. Foreign powers advocating a loose federal political system in Somalia have held it up as a possible model.

The area is rich in energy resources and is being sized up by oil explorers. However, Puntland's authorities have said insecurity is growing, and blame the Islamist al Shabaab militia, which has been driven out of many regions that it used to control in the remainder of Somalia.

Monday 11 November 2013

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Bodies of trapped miners found in NCotabato

Rescuers recovered on Sunday the cadavers of six missing illegal gold miners buried alive in a tunnel in Magpet, North Cotabato that collapsed due to heavy rains over the weekend.

The victims were digging for gold inside a tunnel along a mountainside in Sitio Kaumpig in Barangay Temporan, whose entrance was blocked by soil and rocks that fell from its canopy, loosened by heavy rains.

The six miners were identified as siblings Jeneto and Jeyrold Flores, Frigel and Romnel, both surnamed Senados, Marion Catubay and his wife, Aileen.

Police investigators found out that the victims did not have any valid permit for their mining activities, which they kept secret from their local government unit.

The chairperson of Barangay Temporan, Yolly Bernabero, said they learned of the victims’ plight from their companion, Jefrey Flores, who managed to dig his way out of the tunnel.

Flores later died in a hospital while undergoing medication for his injuries.

Bernabero said rescuers had to dig through the tunnel first using farm tools to reach the location of the trapped miners.

The local government unit of Magpet has ordered the immediate closure of illegal mining sites in Barangay Temporan to prevent a repeat of the incident.

Monday 11 November 2013

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10,000 dead in Tacloban

As many as 10,000 people are believed dead in this city alone when one of the worst storms on record sent giant sea waves washing away homes, schools and airport buildings, officials said yesterday.

Hundreds of bodies have been recovered while thousands remained missing in the wake of the enormous devastation left by super typhoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) in the Visayas, authorities said.

President Benigno S. Aquino III, who landed in Tacloban yesterday to get a firsthand look at the disaster, said the casualties “will be substantially more” than the official count of 151 — but gave no figure or estimate. He said the government’s priority was to restore power and communications in isolated areas to allow for the delivery of relief and medical assistance to victims.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Aquino was “speechless” when he told him of the devastation the typhoon had wrought in Tacloban.

“I told him all systems are down,” Gazmin said. “There is no power, no water, nothing. People are desperate. They’re looting.”

Ferocious winds ravaged several central islands, burying people under tons of debris and leaving corpses hanging from trees.

The typhoon hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippine archipelago Friday and barreled through six eastern and central islands before exiting into the West Philippine Sea, packing ferocious winds of 235 kph and gusts of 275 kph.

On Leyte Island, regional police chief Elmer Soria said he was told by Gov. Dominic Petilla that there were about 10,000 deaths in the province, mostly by drowning and from collapsed buildings. The figure was based on reports from village officials.

Tacloban City Administrator Tecson Lim said the death toll in the city alone “could go up to 10,000.”

Leyte’s capital is the biggest city in the province with a population of 200,000 people.

About 300-400 bodies have already been recovered but there are “still a lot under the debris,” Lim said. A mass burial was planned Sunday in Palo town near Tacloban.

Many corpses hung on tree branches, buildings and sidewalks.

It’s Horrific — Roxas

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said a massive rescue operation was underway. “We expect a very high number of fatalities as well as injured,” Roxas said after visiting Tacloban on Saturday. “All systems, all vestiges of modern living — communications, power, water — all are down. Media is down, so there is no way to communicate with the people in a mass sort of way.”

“The devastation is, I don’t have the words for it,” Roxas said. “It’s really horrific. It’s a great human tragedy.”

The Philippines has no resources on its own to deal with a disaster of this magnitude, and the US and other governments and agencies were mounting a major relief effort, said Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon.

US, Europe Assistance

At the request of the Philippine government, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed US Pacific Command to deploy ships and aircraft to support search-and-rescue operations and airlift emergency supplies, according to a statement released by the Defense Department press office.

The president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said in a message to Aquino that the EC had sent a team to assist the Philippine authorities and that “we stand ready to contribute with urgent relief and assistance if so required in this hour of need.”

Even by the standards of the Philippines, which is buffeted by many natural calamities — about 20 typhoons a year, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions — the latest disaster shocked the nation of 96 million people.

Deadliest Natural Catastrophe

If the typhoon death toll is confirmed, it would be the deadliest natural catastrophe on record in the Philippines. The deadliest typhoon before “Yolanda” was Tropical Storm “Uring” (international name: Thelma) in November 1991, which killed around 5,100 people in the central Philippines. The deadliest disaster so far was the 1976 magnitude-7.9 earthquake that triggered a tsunami in the Moro Gulf in the southern Philippines, killing 5,791 people.

The airport in Tacloban, about 580 km southeast of Manila, looked like a muddy wasteland of debris, with crumpled tin roofs and upturned cars. The airport tower’s glass windows were shattered, and air force helicopters were busy flying in and out at the start of relief operations. Residential homes that had lined up a 7-kilometer stretch of road leading to Tacloban City were all blown or washed away.

The winds were so strong that Tacloban residents who sought shelter at a local school tied down the roof of the building but it was still ripped off and the school collapsed, Lim said. It wasn’t clear how many died there.

The city’s two largest malls and groceries were looted and the gasoline stations destroyed by the typhoon. Police were deployed to guard a fuel depot to prevent looting of fuel.

“On the way to the airport we saw many bodies along the street,” said Philippine-born Australian Mila Ward, 53, who was waiting at the Tacloban airport to catch a military flight back to Manila.

“They were covered with just anything — tarpaulin, roofing sheets, cardboards,” she said. Asked how many, she said, “Well over 100 where we passed.”

One Tacloban resident said he and others took refuge inside a parked Jeep to protect themselves from the storm, but the vehicle was swept away by a surging wall of water.

“The water was as high as a coconut tree,” said 44-year-old Sandy Torotoro, a bicycle taxi driver who lives near the airport with his wife and 8-year-old daughter. “I got out of the Jeep and I was swept away by the rampaging water with logs, trees and our house, which was ripped off from its mooring.”

“When we were being swept by the water, many people were floating and raising their hands and yelling for help. But what can we do? We also needed to be helped,” Torotoro said.

In Torotoro’s village, bodies could be seen lying along the muddy main road, as residents who had lost their homes huddled, holding on to the few things they had managed to save. The road was lined with trees that had fallen to the ground.

Vice Mayor Jim Pe of Coron town on Busuanga, the last island battered by the typhoon before it blew away to the South China Sea, said most of the houses and buildings there had been destroyed or damaged. Five people drowned in the storm surge and three others were missing, he said by phone.

“It was like a 747 flying just above my roof,” he said, describing the sound of the winds. He said his family and some of his neighbors whose houses were destroyed took shelter in his basement.

Aquino Loses Temper

In Tacloban City, President Aquino reportedly blew his top and momentarily walked out of a briefing with disaster relief officials amid growing frustration with the government response to mitigate the tragedy.

National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council chief Eduardo del Rosario reportedly told the President that 95 percent of Tacloban City was devastated by the storm but Aquino questioned the basis of such assessment.

Aquino was reportedly irritated when Del Rosario supposedly claimed the Tacloban jail with damaged roof was just considered a “minor devastation.” The President pushed for a better government system to verify data on death and destruction left by the storm.

Radio reports also disclosed that the Chief Executive was annoyed by a proposal made by a local businessman to declare martial law or a state of emergency to restore peace and order in Tacloban.

Fatalities Elsewhere

While all attention is on the devastation in Tacloban City and the rest of Leyte, the fatalities in other parts of Visayas are also beginning to pile up as authorities begin reaching the other worst-hit areas.

In Samar, a total of 300 people were confirmed dead in the town of Basey alone. Engr. Leo Dacaynos, of the Provincial Risk Reduction and Management Council of Samar, said Basey and nearby towns are among the hardest hit in the province, adding that most of the fatalities are residents of coastal areas who drowned.

“The seawater rose to up to 20 meters because of storm surge, most of the fatalities drowned,” said Dacaynos in an interview over radio station dzBB.

In Central Visayas, a total of 40 people were reported dead in Cebu alone while three others are missing, two in Cebu and one in Bohol.

In Western Visayas, at least 67 people were reported to have died in four provinces of the region while move than 32 others are in the missing list.

In Iloilo, at least 46 people were killed according to Gov. Arthur Defensor, describing the situation in his province as “very bad.”

Capiz followed next with 17 dead. Aklan, on the other hand, has one dead while Antique has five.

In Coron, Palawan, six fatalities have been accounted, but Mayor Clara Reyes said she the number may still increase as several villages have not been reached disaster response teams.

Reyes described the wrath of the storm that hit Coron as “kasing lakas sa Tacloban.”

She said they badly need the assistance from the national government, noting that of the 24 villages in Coron, there are nine that remain isolated.

Pope’s Call For Prayers

Pope Francis on Saturday has called for prayers for the victims of Typhoon “Yolanda” especially in the Philippines. “I ask all of you to join me in prayer for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan / Yolanda especially those in the beloved islands of the Philippines,” said the Pontiff in his Twitter account @Pontifex.

Caritas Manila Appeal

Caritas Manila is appealing for donations to help the victims of “Yolanda” in the Visayas. “Let us share what we can to help Yolanda relief give to Caritas Manila Damayan,” Fr. Anton Pascual, executive director of Caritas Manila, said.

Donations in cash may be deposited at Caritas Manila Inc. Peso Bank Accounts BPI #3063-5357-01, BDO #5600-45905, Unionbank #00-030-001227-5, PNB 10-856-660001-7, Metrobnk 175-3-17506954-3.

Caritas Manila said in cash donations are used to buy contents for the family emergency relief pack, materials and medicines for first aid kits.

The social action arm of the Archdiocese of Manila also appealed for in-kind donations such as canned goods, potable water, rice, medicines, clothes, undergarments, beddings, linens, personal care and hygiene products, cleaning materials among others.

Donations may be brought to Caritas Manila office at 2002 Jesus St. Pandacan, Manila; Radyo Veritas in West Avenue-Edsa Quezon City or the nearest parish.

Evacuation Centers

Cruz said there are some 114,312 families either staying inside the evacuation centers or with their relatives in the entire region.

Iloilo has the most number of affected with 76,225 families followed by Negros Occidental with almost 13,000 and closely followed by Capiz with 11,656 families.

Some 2,990 families are inside evacuation centers in Aklan while while 1,286 in Antique.

No Power, Water

The entire provinces of Aklan, Antique and Capiz remain without power with the Capiz and Antique also suffering interrupted water supply.

In Negros Occidental, 85 percent of the power supply has already been restored while the power supply from the ILECO 1 has been fully restored.

The power supply in the areas being serviced by ILECO 2 and 3 were restored by 70 to 75 percent.

Canada Assistance

Canada announced that it will provide up to P205.9-million (Cad$5 million) in support to humanitarian organizations striving to meet the needs of the people affected by typhoon Yolanda.

According to the Canadian Embassy in Manila, emergency relief activities will include the provision of emergency shelter, food, water, livelihood support, and other essential services.

“Canada is deeply concerned by the impact of this catastrophic typhoon,” said Canadian Minister of International Development and Minister for La Francophonie Christian Paradis said in a statement. “

British Condolences

Simultaneously, British Minister of State for the Foreign Office Hugo Swire offered his condolences to the Philippines following the devastation caused by the strongest typhoon ever to hit the country this year.

A Department for International Development (DFID) team has already arrived in the Philippines to assess, in consultation with the UN and the Philippine government, what assistance the UK can offer as a matter of urgency.

*In addition to the £4 million (P276 million pesos) for the earlier emergency responses, the British government on Sunday announced a further package of up to £6 million (P414 million) for the humanitarian response to Typhoon Yolanda. *

State of Calamity Call

Lawmakers crossed party lines in calling on President Aquino to declare the country under a state of calamity after super typhoon “Yolanda” wrought havoc in Central Philippines.

The House independent bloc, led by Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and administrations solons are expected to file today a resolution putting the Philippines under a state of calamity to ensure that the much needed assistance will be extended to the typhoon-stricken provinces, particularly in Tacloban City.

“The needed assistance should be extended immediately to the areas affected by the monster typhoon especially in the hardest hit places. Let us pray for the Filipinos,” said Romualdez, whose province was battered by “Yolanda.”

2-M Families Affected

The number of families affected by super typhoon “Yolanda” has reached two million or 9.53 million individuals in eight regions by mid-Sunday, based on the latest count by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

The number of displaced families went up to 96,039 families or 449,416 individuals staying in evacuation centers, while 36,627 families or 182,378 persons temporarily sought shelter in their relatives’ houses in Regions 4A, 4B, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, and 13.

DSWD has initially extended P10.6 million worth of relief assistance to Bicol Region, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Northern Mindanao, and Caraga Region.

AFP Appeal

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) appealed to those affected by super typhoon “Yolanda” to cooperate with authorities particularly the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) as the government works to restore order amidst ongoing rescue, relief and rehabilitation operations.

On its part, the AFP deployed additional 100 soldiers to help police and existing military forces in their efforts to restore peace and order in the typhoon-struck Tacloban City following the devastation left by the storm.

“As we firmly establish command and control in affected areas, we appeal to the public to be patient. We understand your emotion and frustration due to the lack of information coming out,” said Lt. Col. Ramon P. Zagala, the AFP public affairs office (PAO) chief.

Monday 11 November 2013

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From Bosnia to Syria: the investigators identifying victims of genocide

The dead body of the man in the blue T-shirt is covered in blood, and has been dumped in a line with tens of others in the courtyard of a building in Syria. In the colour photograph, the sun is shining down on the corpses, all of whom bear the marks of violence, some showing multiple bullet wounds.

Dr Radwan Ziadeh, the director of the Damascus Centre for Human Rights Studies, clicks on to the next slide in his presentation. It shows a trench filled with the dead bodies of those killed in a massacre in Syria in 2012, the corpses lying jumbled, packed tightly on top of one another.

"That man in the blue T-shirt," says Ziadeh, looking at his audience, "is my cousin." He pauses, looking at the assembled Kurds, Iraqis, Libyans, Bosnians, Serbs, Mexicans, Americans and others in front of him, gathered in the airy auditorium of the Peace Palace in The Hague.

"I never thought," says Ziadeh, a soft-spoken man with a neat moustache and black hair, "that I would see mass graves in my country."

Many in the audience nod firmly in agreement, for, like the activist, who has been documenting human rights abuses in Syria since 2011, they have mass graves in their countries too. They have gathered here in the Netherlands to try to establish a workable method of co-ordinating the multiple, highly complex facets of dealing with the rarified and painful world that is missing persons.

"Before I finish, I want to raise the issue of 'never again'," continues Ziadeh, clicking off his PowerPoint, and handing over the podium to the next speaker. This is a quietly determined American woman who knows all too well that those words, uttered at the Nazi war crimes trials in Nuremberg more than 60 years ago, have proved somewhat hollow. With an estimated 48,000 people, mostly civilians, missing in Syria alone – victims of forced disappearances, massacres and executions – the map of world conflict nowadays would instead seem to shout "again and again".

The organisation that Kathryne Bomberger heads – the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) – has perhaps done more than any to account for many of the thousands of people missing worldwide from wars, ethnic cleansing and natural disasters. The officials gathered in front of her from multiple conflict areas bear testament to this.

Croatian president Ivo Josipovic, whose country has uncovered about 150 mass graves from the war in the 1990s, said in the auditorium: "The issue of missing persons remains at the heart of every armed conflict."

"Syria," says Bomberger, "is a looming challenge. The challenge to carry out the non-discriminatory search for the missing is the challenge of the former Yugoslavia, is the challenge of Syria, the challenge of Libya, and the challenge of Iraq."

She should know. When, in 1999, the ICMP set out to find and identify the estimated 8,100 Bosnian Muslim men and boys who had gone missing following the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in eastern Bosnia, many people said it could never be done. After all, the bodies of the men killed by the Bosnian Serb forces of General Ratko Mladic – now on trial for genocide in a Hague courtroom, a mile from the ICMP conference – had been buried in dozens of mass graves hidden in the wild Bosnian countryside. One forensic scientist said that finding the victims and giving them back their identities would be akin to "solving the world's greatest forensic puzzle".

Undaunted, Bomberger and the ICMP picked up the gauntlet, and 18 years later, using advanced DNA-identification techniques at their Sarajevo laboratory, have identified nearly 7,000 of the Srebrenica dead, along with another 10,000 people missing from the Balkans conflicts of the 90s. The small organisation, only about 175 strong, is made up of forensic scientists, geneticists, biologists, human rights experts and support staff. A high percentage are from the former Yugoslavia, tenacious and resourceful people recruited in Bosnia after the war.

ICMP has now spread its operational wings: it is helping to identify the missing of Iraq and Libya, and has identified Chilean victims of General Pinochet from the 1970s, hundreds of cases from natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Asian tsunami in December 2004, and even soldiers from the second world war.

When former British foreign secretary David Miliband, visiting their Bosnian headquarters in 2009, branded them a "global centre of excellence", he was not being overgenerous. Danish professor Niels Morling, vice-president of the International Society for Forensic Genetics, gets straight to the point: "The work of the ICMP is almost incredible – its work with DNA is, without doubt, the single most important achievement within the field of human identification with DNA."

So is it time to use this expertise to help Syria? And how? For now it is too early to say, as setting up a workable programme to handle missing persons – which means, to start with, finding and exhuming the dead – is obviously impossible while civil war is cracking across the country. And ICMP, as it says in its mandate, "provides assistance to governments", so some sort of post-conflict administration would have to be in place in Syria to request help in dealing with the thorny issue of missing persons.

But suffice to say that ICMP has already received a delegation of interested parties at its Sarajevo headquarters, which included Ziadeh.

So how on Earth, if asked, would it go looking for 48,000 missing people in a place such as Syria? What forensic science and human rights tools would it need, what judicial and legal permissions? How, in short, would it all work? And why is it so important to deal with the problem of missing people?

How it might operate forensically in Syria is reflected by how it is working this week, several hundred miles south of The Hague, in the chilly autumn of north-western Bosnia. In an enormous clay pit set in scrubby woodland outside the hamlet of Tomasica, British, American and Bosnian forensic experts from the ICMP, along with counterparts from Bosnia's Missing Persons Institute, are digging up hundreds of muddy, grey-brown corpses. These are Bosnians executed 20 years ago, painstakingly exhumed from one of the largest mass graves ever found in the country. So far, 247 complete bodies have been recovered.

It is a mammoth feat of engineering and forensics, to start with: the corpses, alleged to be victims of ethnic cleansing by Bosnian Serb forces in and around the nearby town of Prijedor in 1993, are buried about 7.5 metres (25 feet) under the surface. In an area larger than a football pitch, 40,000 cubic metres of gluey, hard-packed clay has had to be removed with diggers in order to access the bodies. They lie underneath it in jumbled panoplies of death, teeth exposed, mouths open, skin still attached in greying shrouds to their skeletons, for ever frozen in their moment of mortal truth.

The decomposition of human bodies is slowed by a lack of oxidisation, and the clay in the grave has effectively sealed the bodies from the outside air. The process of saponification, whereby after death the body's tissue turns to a soap-like substance called adipocere, also called grave-wax, has been slowed. Muscular and organ tissue still clings to the skeletons.

Once exhumed, the bodies are taken to a nearby makeshift mortuary, to begin the road through ICMP's DNA laboratory system. Hopefully, for the living relatives of the Tomasica dead, who have waited 20 agonising years to find them, this will see the remains identified and returned to their families for proper burial. The legal, forensic and human rights apparatus that makes this possible – the pathologists, mortuaries, autopsies, associations of living family members, DNA labs, data-matching software, court orders – is a vast operational monolith whose running the ICMP has perfected in Bosnia since the war. Wherever it goes, it must operate within the framework of any given country's laws.

"Science cannot exist in a vacuum," says an ICMP director. "It has to coincide with a rule-of-law approach."

In The Hague, Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans called for the ICMP to be given legal status under international law to enable it to operate worldwide – a motion supported by the UK, whose successive governments have been among the 22 worldwide that have funded the organisation over the past 17 years.

Regardless of whether the victims in question are from Kosovo or Iraq or Libya – or, as at Tomasica, from Bosnia – the identification of missing people is desperately important for human rights, reconciliation and justice. It establishes accurate numbers of casualties, and they prove what happened. On history's card table, they lay down a scientifically precise ace of spades. They put in place an absolutist cornerstone of the process of rule-of-law, as establishing numbers of missing persons is also vital for any war crimes trials.

It helps with natural disasters and terrorist incidents too – ICMP staff are currently in Nairobi, assisting with the aftermath of the Westgate shopping mall attack. Last summer, when a train caught fire off Lac-Mégantic in Canada, killing 50 people, the heavily burned remains of some of the victims arrived in the Sarajevo DNA laboratory.

ICMP's work is also, with the consent of relatives of the victims, used as evidence in war crimes trials, such as those of senior Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadžic and Ratko Mladic, being tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), also based in The Hague. This provision of evidence can thus contribute to a newly emerging form of "atrocity accountability". It issues a warning to warlords the world over that their crimes can, one day, come back to haunt them in international courts.

But first the remains of missing persons have to be identified. Since the 1970s, thousands of people have gone missing from conflicts in countries including Chile, El Salvador and Iraq, as well as the Balkans. Before the ICMP started using DNA testing in 2000, human remains were mostly identified through artefacts found with them: dentures, blood-stained clothing, documents and fingerprints – the stark, mundane memorabilia of violent human demise. The problem was that this method was unreliable.

Two years after the 1995 Dayton Accords ended the Bosnian war, President Bill Clinton introduced an initiative to found the ICMP. In the dry, formal language of mandate and policy, its job was to provide a proper accounting of the persons missing from the conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia. It then proceeded to revolutionise the process of making large numbers of DNA matches on missing persons' remains. Using blood samples taken from the living relatives of victims, it matched them with the DNA taken from skeletal remains exhumed from mass graves, such as those from Srebrenica. Bomberger says: "In the early days, while mankind had been able to map the human genome, the ICMP was using DNA technology to map a human genocide."

So how does this identification process work, and what makes the ICMP's laboratory system unique? The answer lies partly in the vast numbers of human remains it handles – 40,000 people were missing in the former Yugoslavia alone – which no other commercial or government laboratory could even approach.

Second, it has developed its own matching software and vast databases containing genetic information from nearly 100,000 people, both living and dead. From this, it developed a system that could cross-reference vast numbers of DNA samples, taken from blood given by living relatives, and that extracted from remains exhumed from graves. By November 2008, for instance, ICMP would have collected more than 86,650 blood samples from living Balkans' relatives alone. The more blood samples that were collected, the easier it proved to cross-match DNA samples taken from the bones of exhumed victims.

Third, the ICMP's laboratory system excels at extracting tiny amounts of DNA from heavily "degraded" bone samples. The DNA molecules that are best protected in bone are in the osteocytes – a type of cell – of mineralised cortical portions of hard bone, such as femurs. These are the hardest substances in the human anatomy and the ones that best resist the degradation of time and burial.

It was thus much harder for the ICMP to extract DNA from the human remains of Norwegian soldiers who had been killed on the eastern front north of Leningrad in the second world war than it was to extract DNA from Hurricane Katrina victims from 2005. The Norwegian soldiers had lain where they fell, on the surface of the Arctic tundra, for more than 60 years since 1944, frozen in winter, defrosted in summer, heavily oxidised, with interim interference from animals such as arctic foxes. The Katrina samples were fresh.

ICMP's central DNA laboratory is set in a quiet part of northern Sarajevo. The identification process for DNA profiling, or "fingerprinting", starts with blood and bone samples. Human remains, once they are exhumed from sites such as Tomasica, are washed, autopsied and catalogued. Bone samples, each about 10-15cm (4-6in) long, are cut with electric saws from the long bones, such as the femurs, of the victims.

Electric grinders are then used to scour dirt from the surface of the bone samples, which tend to absorb colouring and stains from the surrounding earth and from the clothing covering the corpse. When the ICMP was exhuming Bosnian mass graves in the years after the war, some of the clothing that sometimes appeared best-preserved was that made by Levi Strauss. A common contaminant that can impede the DNA extraction process is humic acid, a constituent part of many soil types.

Then, ground down into very fine powder, the bone samples are washed, and in a chemical solution, "lysis" takes place. This is the process of breaking down a cell so its constituent parts can be isolated for examination. The resultant liquid sample is then purified to remove any traces of detergents or reagents, spun in centrifuges and treated in devices equipped with silica membranes to which, simply put, the microscopic DNA particles adhere.

The DNA profile of a person is made by the ICMP using the Nuclear Short Tandem Repeat (STR) method. The main building blocks of the DNA molecule are four nitrogen-containing compounds called nucleobases – adenine, guanine, thymine and cytosine. The DNA double helix is normally made up of two DNA molecules, whose component parts intertwine like the branches of a weaving vine.

These four nucleobases repeat all along the DNA strand, pairing off and building "base pairs" of adenine with thymine, cytosine with guanine. The patterns in which they repeat and occur on the DNA strand are different in each human being, and form the basis of STRs. If the DNA strand can be amplified millions of times, the patterns of these repeats can be identified, and a profile of them obtained. This is the human DNA profile or "fingerprint".

Yet the scientific successes of the ICMP could never have been realised without the residual human sadness of thousands of relatives of missing people. Kada Hotic is one of these. A Bosnian Muslim woman, she lost her husband, son, two brothers and an uncle at Srebrenica in 1995. Over the subsequent 18 years, as the vice-president of the Association of Mothers of Srebrenica, she has followed ICMP's development, and its exhumation of the dozens of Srebrenica mass graves. These have led to her being reunited with the correctly identified remains of her five male relatives. She sums it up simply: "ICMP has done great things: it gave us back the ones we love."

One exceptional part played in the aftermath of the Balkan wars by the ICMP was to introduce measures to ensure justice. This approach, stresses Adam Boys, the organisation's chief operating officer, a former chartered accountant from Argyll, is about the rule of law. "You simply cannot kill tens, hundreds or thousands of people and expect to get away with it," he says. "I strongly believe that this message will be increasingly reinforced so that military leaders or their governments will consider hard before they commit crimes: ICMP's legacy and the legacies of similar institutions that support the rule of law could be a diminution in the number and scale of atrocities."

Monday 11 November 2013

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