Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Brazil floods kill 20, force 40,000 to evacuate

Floods and mudslides caused by heavy downpours in southeastern Brazil have killed at least 20 people and forced another 40,000 to evacuate.

The heavy rains, which began last week, affected 45 Brazilian municipalities, causing some of their major roads to crumble.

The civil defense department of Minas Gerais said on Monday that 14 people died in the state because of floodwaters or mudslides, and about 700 others sought shelter in public buildings or the homes of friends and relatives.

Neighboring Espirito Santo state said another six people were killed there, and some 40,150 had to leave their homes due to mudslides and rivers overflowing their banks. In 24 hours, 130 millimeters of rain had fallen in the state.

Tuesday 24 December 2013


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Has the mystery of nine skiers who died in the Siberian wilderness in 1959 been solved? Author claims new 'scientific' explanation for the Dyatlov Pass incident

A mysterious case of nine experienced skiers who died in bizarre circumstances on an expedition into Siberia may have been solved by an America researcher.

Donnie Eichar, a film-maker and author, spent four years investigating the so-called Dyatlov Pass incident, and has now claimed that he has discovered a 'scientific' explanation for the baffling case.

The skiers, who were all students, were led into the wilderness of the Ural mountains by 23-year-old Igor Dyatlov.

Their aim was to reach the remote Otorten Mountain, but - with the exception of one man who turned back early due to ill health - the entire party would be found dead beneath the snow.

Rescuers sent out into the -24-degree weather to track the party down at first found only a collapsed tent, still filled with all the clothing and survival gear needed to make the rest of the journey.

But the empty tent baffled investigators, as it still contained items of clothing and pairs of shoes - implying that some of the students had ventured out into the wilderness barefoot and without coats.

Even when later searches uncovered the frozen bodies of all nine victims, no convincing explanation could be found for why the experienced hikers - who would have been well-versed in winter survival techniques - had come to such a tragic end.

Search parties found one group of bodies lying in the snow on flat land near a river, a mile from the tent, next to the remains of a long burnt-out fire.

Around 350 yards away lay the corpse of Dyatlov, the engineering student from Ural Polyetchnic who had put the expedition together and was its leader. His name would later be given to the area where the tragedy took place, as well as the incident itself.

Nearby, a search dog sniffed out the remains of Zina Kolmogorova, 22, under four inches of snow, and then that of Rustem Slobodin.

The bodies were in a line 200 yards apart, as if they had been trying to crawl behind each other back up to the shelter of the tent, but never made it.

Another two months went by before the rest of the group were found, under 15ft of snow in a den they had desperately hollowed out for themselves before succumbing to the cold.

Some of this group had broken bones and terrible internal injuries but, strangely, no external wounds, not even scratches on the skin.

Post-mortem examinations of all nine bodies threw their own anomalies, as some bodies were fully clothed, others almost naked. One, belonging to Lyudmilla Dubinina was missing her tongue and eyes.

An investigation by a Soviet government inspector was also fruitless, and was quietly dropped after concluding nobody was to blame. Lev Ivanov, the inspector, concluded only that all nine deaths had been caused by what he described as ‘an unknown elemental force which they were unable to overcome’.

But in a recent interview with Failure magazine, Mr Eichar hinted at his conclusion, saying: 'The conclusion that I have come up with could only have happened with the help of modern science and the help of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.'

Jason Zasky, who interviewed Mr Eichar, also wrote that his theory: 'involves a particular type of repetitive wind event (one that could be produced by the topography of Dead Mountain), which in turn might have triggered panic-inducing infrasound.'

Mr Eichar has stayed tight-lipped about the specifics, but said the original investigator: 'couldn’t explain what happened because he lacked the science and technology to do so.'

The 'infrasound' theory to which the interviewer refers is a bizarre - but apparently plausible - explanation which argues that sound waves too low to hear could have subtly affected the minds of the skiers, panicking them and causing them to rush recklessly out into the snow, where the cold killed them.

These waves of infrasound, it seems, could have been produced by high winds resonating thanks to the shape of the mountains.

Studied have suggested that infrasound - soundwaves too low for humans to hear - can nonetheless produce feelings of unease, awe or even terror which cannot be explained any other way.

It is unclear how far this explanation matches Mr Eichar's - but supporters of the theory claim it can account for the bizarre situation in which the bodies were found.

Tuesday 24 December 2013


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Tsunami memories build for mass return for tenth anniversary in 2014

Thailand's leading forensic expert, Dr Porntip Rojanasunan, is to appear at a tsunami memorial service and a public workshop at this year's anniversary on December 26.

Next year's anniversary marks 10 years and it's expected to attract survivors, volunteers, and those who played a part in the identification of bodies from around the world.

Dr Porntip played a key part in the identification process during the first 40 days. She told Phuketwan: ''On Thursday at the Baan Bang Maruan cemetery, where 380 unidentified victims are still buried, we will be reviewing the lessons of the 2004 tsunami in advance of the tenth anniversary.

''We learned a tremendous amount about body identification [5400 tourists and residents were killed] but the big lesson remains how to cooperate better at every level during a natural disaster.''

The seminar will be followed on the evening of December 26 by a sky lantern release at the cemetery. A fair has been operating every evening outside the cemetery and locals have the grounds neatly trimmed and ready.

The identification of about 3000 nameless bodies by a team of Thai and international police, dentists and others was the remarkable forensic success story that followed the tsunami.

Students will paint the walls at the cemetery on December 25. The cemetery is just down the road from the 7-Eleven store in the village, on the main road not far on from the turnoff to Nam Khem, a fishing port where about 800 perished.

The ceremony in Nam Khem will begin about 9am on December 26. It is usually one of the most touching places to be.

On Phuket, the beach at Patong will be covered in candles during the evening of December 26. A multi-religious ceremony takes place at the Mai Khao Tsunami Wall of Remembrance - now among the construction site for the region 8 Police headquarters - at 8am.

Tuesday 24 December 2013


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December 24, 1953: New Zealand rail bridge collapses and kills 151 in Christmas Eve volcanic mudflow disaster

A railway bridge collapsed and killed a 151 train passengers in New Zealand on this day in 1953 after the structure was damaged by a devastating volcanic mudflow.

The steam engine and all five second-class carriages of the Wellington to Auckland express plunged into the Whangaehu River at Tangiwai when the crossing gave way.

The Christmas Eve tragedy happened when a lahar – the contents of a burst volcanic crater lake - cascaded down Mount Ruapehu and surged into the river.

One of the structure’s piers was destroyed by the unusual phenomenon only minutes before the train got there and then collapsed under the weight of the locomotive.

Many of the victims, including a family of five on their way to visit relatives for Christmas, were washed 75 miles into the sea and their bodies were never found.

A British Pathé newsreel shows the scale of the devastation – the worst rail crash in New Zealand history – with an aerial view of carriages strewn across the valley.

The footage also shows 21 unidentified victims being buried in a mass grave at a funeral service attended by the Duke of Edinburgh.

He and the Queen had been in New Zealand as part of the first overseas tour of her reign when the tragedy happened.

The monarch delivered a message of sympathy to her people in New Zealand in her annual Christmas Day message, which was broadcast from Auckland.

She also awarded the George Medal to train guard William Inglis and passerby Cyril Ellis, who saw the danger and alerted the driver by waving a torch at the trackside.

The train, which was travelling at 40mph, could not come to a halt in time to avert the disaster at Tangiwai, which means “weeping waters” in the Mauri language.

But he helped save 134 lives after three first-class carriages, the guard's van, and a postal van remained safely on the track.

When Ellis saw that the fourth first-class coach was teetering on the edge, he and Inglis went inside to help passengers off.

While the two were inside, the carriage snapped from its couplings and fell into the river.

But Ellis and Inglis were still able to rescue all but one of the 16 passengers and save themselves.

The only victim in the first-class carriage was a little girl who drowned after being trapped in her seat.

The death toll also included 148 second-class passengers, the driver and fireman.

Also among the victims was Nerissa Love, the fiancée of New Zealand cricketer Bob Blair, who was touring South Africa at the time.

In the aftermath, a system was developed to provide early warnings of lahars from Mount Ruapehu, the highest peak in the country’s North Island.

The 9,177ft active volcano is particularly prone to the phenomenon, whose name is derived from the Javanese language.

Occasionally, the crater lake of steaming water marking the vent, becomes so full that it breaks through a weak point in the surrounding ice.

This sends a torrent of water, ice, rock and mud down the eastern side of the mountain and into the Whangaehu River.

However, lahars prior to 1953 had failed to damage the bridge, which has now been reinforced.

A similar sized lahar struck again in 2007 and the structure was unharmed.

The early warning systems also stopped trains and motorists at Tangiwai before the mudflow hit.

Tuesday 24 December 2013


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