Monday, 12 May 2014

State mental patients killed in 1918 fire to get markers after long-lost gravesite found in Norman cemetery

The night watchman smelled smoke in the linen room of Oklahoma State Hospital Ward 14 at 3:45 a.m. on a spring Saturday morning in 1918. He quickly sounded the steam whistle at the hospital's power plant to wake the sleeping patients. Nurses, ward watchmen, and other employees fought the fire with hand-held extinguishers and a one-hose stream.

Night-shift attendants bravely began trying to evacuate the men and boys from the ward and the sleeping room above them. Dr. D.W. Griffin was on the scene within minutes, organizing rescuers.

The south wind was blowing fire debris and quickly caught the dining room on fire. Flames caught Ward 13 and 16 on fire but all 88 patients were safely evacuated and the flames beaten back. In all, about 1,000 patients were housed in the sanitarium that spring.

Some of the patients were violent and the fire excited them even more, making the rescue more difficult. A few were confused and ran back into the buildings. Sitting on the grounds, the attendants wrapped the patients with blankets and took a head count: Forty men and boys out of 48 patients in Ward 14 were dead, mostly smothered in their beds. It is believed to be the highest number of deaths in a single Oklahoma fire, outdistancing the 36 killed in the Babbs Switch school fire on Christmas Eve in 1924.

The bodies were mostly unrecognizable. Undertakers I.M. Jackson and Meyer & Meyer removed the remains and prepared them for burial in coffins. One body was identified. The Rev. and Mrs. L.H. Havill identified their son, Ona, and took custody of his remains for burial at nearby Independence Cemetery.

Other families came from throughout the state to try and identify their sons, husbands and brothers. In a large, unmarked grave, in the northeastern part of the I.O.O.F. cemetery in northeast Norman, 37 coffins were covered with dirt on a Sunday afternoon.

For nearly 100 years, the exact location of the grave was unknown. Deputy Fire Chief Jim Bailey and others became interested in marking the grave to remember the fire victims.

Bailey enlisted the help of hospital administrators and staff of the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey at the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Scott Hammerstedt ran ground penetrating radar twice on the area where the mass grave was believed to be located. He'll discuss his findings in a talk at the hospital cafeteria at 6 p.m. March 25.

"We found something," he said. "But without excavation you never can be sure. We found an anomaly around that size. We are reasonably sure but you can never be 100 percent sure."

The site was one identified by a previous cemetery manager.

In newspaper accounts of the time, they were called simply "the unfortunates," the 40 patients of the Oklahoma State Hospital for the Insane who died on April 13, 1918, in a grisly, pre-dawn fire.

While their names were known, their bodies for the most part were unrecognizable. And with the exception of one man who was identified and claimed by his family, they were buried together in a single, unmarked grave.

Other graves were dug to the right and left of them, and tombstones lovingly planted to record for posterity who was buried there. Yet, the 39 unclaimed bodies remained with no marker, no message to posterity that they once had lived —— and violently died —— at the state hospital for the mentally ill. Soon, the site where they were laid to rest was forgotten.

Now, almost a century later, the grave of "the unfortunates" has been located, and hospital officials say they want to rectify what was a grievous oversight.

Monday 12 May 2014

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The worst sea tragedy — Kadavulevu

There have been many disasters in Fiji waters that have claimed a few hundred lives.

Of all, the capsizing of the inter-island vessel Kadavulevu in 1964 is believed to be the worst as it claimed 89 lives and left only three survivors.

Before the Kadavulevu tragedy, the destruction of the Syria at Nasilai Reef on the night of May 11, 1884 was regarded as the worst shipping tragedy in Fiji waters.

The 1010 tonne ship ran aground on the reef and broke into two, claiming 59 lives and throwing more than 200 survivors in rough seas.

Following the Kadavulevu tragedy, the Makogai and the inter-island vessel Uluilakeba got caught in Cyclone Lottie in 1973 and capsized, jointly claiming more than 80 lives.

More than a decade after Cyclone Lottie had wreaked havoc in the country, the Talofa capsized in waters off Yasawa-i-Rara in 1986, in which eight people died.

In 1995, the country was shocked when a boat carrying two people capsized between Labasa and Cikobia, leaving 21 people dead and one survivor.

The Ovalau tragedy in 2003 did not claim any lives but millions of dollars worth of heavy machinery, trucks and cargo were lost in Bligh Waters.

As part of a flashback into major sea disasters in Fiji, today we bring you excerpts from The Fiji Times of yesteryears on the Kadavulevu tragedy. A Fijian song was also written about it.

IT was March 29, 1964, when the inter-island vessel left an outer island.

There were 92 people on board the Kadavulevu, including passengers and crew, and it was reportedly sailing back to Suva.

On the front page of the April 2, 1964 edition, this newspaper reported the vessel had sunk in the Koro Sea just before midnight on March 29.

Seini Wakesa, 43, who had survived the disaster, relayed the tragic news after being washed ashore on Nosoata Island at the mouth of the Rewa River on April 1.

This newspaper had reported then that the passengers and crew clung to the side of the overturned ship but within minutes a fire broke out and they were forced to swim away.

It was also reported Ms Wakesa and three others hurriedly built a raft from debris and pushed away from the burning hull of the vessel.

After midday on April 1, 1964, the raft hit the reef near Nasilai and broke up, forcing Ms Wakesa to start swimming for her life, with no knowledge of the others who were with her.

It was reported the Kadavulevu was a wooden-hulled auxiliary schooner that was 45 feet long with a weight of 23.31 tonnes and was licensed to carry 29 passengers in Fiji waters.

On the front page of the April 3 edition, this newspaper reported the death toll from the tragedy would be more than 70.

Also, it was reported two more survivors — Viliame Qelo, 10, of Nasonini in Suva and Nina Rareba, 49, of Vatuwaqa in Suva were found, bringing the number of survivors to three.

The survivors had been in the water for a maximum of three and a half days without food and drinking water before they were found.

It was also reported that more than 70 passengers in the vessel were returning from a large gathering on Nairai Island in the Lomaiviti Group.

On the front page of the April 4 edition, this newspaper reported that hopes were fading to find other survivors from the tragedy.

The owner of the vessel Samson Lee and his brother Peter Lee were also said to have been on board the Kadavulevu when it capsized and caught fire. Survivors of the tragedy told this newspaper then that they sang hymns and prayed while swimming and trying to reach land.

On page three of the same day's edition, this newspaper released the first list of people who were on board the inter-island vessel when tragedy struck.

Among them were several women and children, most of whose bodies were never found despite days of aerial and sea search.

This newspaper continued to report on the developments then, including calls for a special fund for the victims families and calls for an inquiry into the disaster.

In the April 9 edition of this newspaper, the Fiji Marine Board invited anybody with evidence that could assist in the inquiry into the disaster to submit their names. Also, it was reported in the same edition that Samisoni Dakunivosa, 22, did not travel on the vessel from Nairai to Suva because it was overcrowded and the weather was bad.

On Tuesday, April 21, 1964, this newspaper reported on the start of an inquiry into the Kadavulevu tragedy.

The master of the vessel Yacomai, Misaele Tiko told the Fiji Marine Board inquiry that the captain of the Kadavulevu, its owner and others had an argument before it left Suva for Nairai on the night of March 26. Ms Wakesa told the inquiry, as reported in the April 22 edition, that she prayed to God to give her strength while she was in the raft she and others had made and while swimming.

She also told the inquiry about the fire which reportedly broke out after the boat had tilted to its side in open seas.

On the front page of the April 23 edition, this newspaper reported on the findings of the Fiji Marine Board inquiry into the tragedy.

The inquiry found that the primary cause of the Kadavulevu capsizing was gross overloading of passengers, most of whom were on the cabin top and in the main cabin.

It found that the adverse weather and sea conditions at the time of the accident, together with the gross overloading, were contributing factors to the vessel foundering but should not be confused with the primary cause — gross overloading with many people on the top parts of the Kadavulevu.

The marine board said in its opinion, there was not sufficient evidence to show the steering gear was defective and it was therefore not considered to be a contributing factor in the accident.

Also, the board considered a formal investigation into the loss of the Kadavulevu to be requisite and expedient. It expressed its regret at the loss of lives and extended its sympathy to the victims' relatives.

During the inquiry, the board heard from 16 witnesses, including the three survivors of the tragic incident.

On April 24, this newspaper reported that pieces of wreckage, mats, pillows and a blanket from the vessel had been washed up on the beach near two villages on Vatulele Island.

While the tragic loss of several lives resulted in a lot of sad faces, what made things more difficult for the victims' families was the fact that many bodies were never recovered.

Monday 12 May 2014

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S Korea ferry disaster: Don't forget those still waiting to find their loved ones

Around 10 days after the April 16 sinking of the ferry Sewol, which killed hundreds of passengers who were mostly high school students on a field trip, the mother of one missing student lamented that she may not be able to identify her son's body if it was found because he did not wear any brand-name clothes. "I didn't have enough money to buy him brand-name clothes and now I'll never have the chance," she said as she wept.

Once a body is found, the description appears on a large monitor in the gymnasium in Jindo where the families of the missing students have been staying since the tragedy. The characteristics are gender, height, clothing and any distinctive physical characteristics. The families undergo a harrowing emotional moment each time the monitor displays such information.

On April 24, one woman in her 20s wept in agony as the description on the monitor matched that of her brother. She had always been among the most active among the family members of victims in calling for more efforts to find the passengers and had remained relatively calm until then.

Her hands shook as she gathered her belongings from the floor of the gymnasium. Tears streamed down her cheeks and dripped from her glasses. Other family members could not take their eyes off of her until she headed off to identify the body.

The same day, another woman learned that the body of her 44-year-old husband had been found. Other family members, who were still waiting for news about their loved ones, told her she was lucky to have found him.

After identifying the bodies of their child, husband or wife, families hold a funeral and finally head home. But those who still remain at the gymnasium keep staring at the monitor.

Some 500,000 people have visited a memorial altar in Ansan, south of Seoul, near the high school where most of the passengers came from. But the families still remaining at the gymnasium in Jindo wonder how much longer they have to wait until they hear any news about their loved ones. As the number of the missing dwindles, so do the numbers of volunteers working at the gym and journalists covering the tragedy. But the hearts of the Korean public should be with them until they too find their loved ones.

Weakening ship

Nearly a month after the ferry Sewol sank off the southwest coast of Korea, rescuers are encountering a new challenge as the search continues for 29 people still unaccounted for: a weakening ship.

The mission has been suspended since Saturday due to dangerous conditions such as high waves and strong tides. Coastguard spokesman Ko Myung-seok said the search will continue once conditions improve, but a new threat to divers is the collapse of parts of the vessel.

One room that the divers have been trying to enter near the rear of the ship has been blocked by the partial collapse in a nearby wall, Mr. Ko said.

It’s a room that divers have entered before, but they want to explore more thoroughly as try to reach places that were previously obstructed, he said.

“We will put the priority on the safety of divers when they search through dangerous areas,” Mr. Ko said.

Meanwhile, officials are scrambling to prevent currents from sweeping away articles and bodies from the ship. An object has been found in a location as far as 80 kilometers away from the accident site.

The government has also decided to provide subsidies to cover for any economic losses incurred by fishermen who have been taking part in the rescue operations, such as fuel costs and damage to fish farms.

As of Monday, 275 people have been confirmed dead from the April 16 ferry sinking.

Monday 12 May 2014

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Missing in America Project to bury 28 veterans' unclaimed remains

For four years, about 250 unclaimed bodies have been cremated and stored in plastic containers awaiting mass burial by the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office.

John Fabry, Pennsylvania coordinator of the Missing in America Project, suspected that some of them might have been veterans entitled to military funerals.

After talking with the military, the medical examiner's staff, a coroner and numerous funeral homes, he will bury 28 veterans with military honors on Thursday in the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil.

“I'm glad we're able to do this,” said Michael Chichwak, manager of investigations for the Medical Examiner's Office.

The procession will start at 9:30 a.m. at Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science on Baum Boulevard in East Liberty and reach the cemetery about 10:30 a.m. Fabry is hoping people will volunteer to drive in the procession, help with the ceremony, or simply pay their respects.

He needs a chaplain, volunteers to fire the salute and others to fold the flags.

His organization works to ensure that the inscription on grave markers — “Not forgotten” — rings true.

“These individuals served our country in either peacetime or wartime and for whatever reason ended up in our office. Now we're able to give them the proper, dignified burial they deserve, instead of being placed in a vault with 200 other unclaimed individuals in a pauper's grave that would be unmarked,” Chichwak said.

The Missing in America Project, a national program, says on its website that it has visited 1,560 funeral homes, identified the cremated remains of 2,144 people as veterans, and buried 1,882 of them.

The veterans in the burial on Thursday represent all branches except the Coast Guard. Most died after 2010, except one who died in 2005 and another in 1993.

If family members do not claim the ashes, funeral homes store them, Fabry said. The national organization once buried a Civil War veteran whose remains sat on a shelf in the South for 92 years, he said.

Fabry became involved with the organization about two or three years ago when he purchased what became the Goldsboro-Fabry Funeral Home in Fairchance in Fayette County.

Although not a veteran, he said he feels a kinship to those in the military. His father, John Fabry Sr., crossed the Rhine with Gen. George Patton during World War II and was shot below the ear. The bullet removed his tonsils and came out the other side. Totally disabled, his father died at 38.

Fabry said he has mixed feelings about his work identifying ashes as belonging to veterans.

“Once you find an individual is a veteran, you feel bad,” he said. “Here's a person who served his country, and now nobody wants to give him a proper burial.”

That sadness is balanced by the satisfaction he feels in providing that.

The project has the support of the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania, a nonprofit group that helps veterans with housing and job counseling.

“The service members have sacrificed on behalf of us. For the community to rally around in this way for the final farewell is exactly what the community should do,” said Albert Mercer, a Navy veteran who is executive director of the Veterans Leadership Program.

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Monday 12 May 2014

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Typhoon Yolanda identification update

In Tacloban, residents still searching for missing loved ones may finally find closure six months after Yolanda devastated the city.

A team from the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila will conduct antemortem identifications of 2,255 bodies that remain unidentified.

Acting city administrator Jennylyn Manibay said the Tacloban government asked the NBI for help in identifying the victims. “This is the least the city government can do to provide comfort and closure to the relatives who had lost their loved ones,” Manibay said.

Of the bodies that had yet to be unidentified, 2,243 were buried in a mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Barangay Diit.

Relatives of the missing can go to the Balyuan Convention Center beginning May 19 to register. The taking of blood samples and dental swabs will be done alphabetically. The samples extraction will end on July 7.

Qualified to give samples are parents and children of victims.

The samples will be sent to the NBI office in Manila. Their DNA will be matched with the DNA taken from the bones and tissues of unidentified victims.

Dr. Charina Labrador, NBI Disaster Victims Identification chief, said she could not say how long it would take to complete the procedure.

She said the matching would be done free of charge. Under ordinary circumstances, DNA matching costs P20,000.

Sunday 12 May 2014

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