Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Tropical Storm Jangmi: 53 Dead In Philippines As Rains Bring Flooding, Landslides To Islands

The death toll from flooding and landslides in the Philippines wrought by tropical storm Jangmi rose to 53 on Wednesday, officials said, with some regions saying they were caught off guard by the deluge.

In Catbalogan town in Samar province 19 people died in a landslide that left homes and vehicles buried under rocks and mud, local Mayor Stephany Uy-Tan said, adding that the town had been surprised by the landslide.

“We did not expect a deluge. We thought the hill where the landslide hit was tough as rocks,” she told AFP.

“There was no evacuation, people were just advised to prepare for possible landslides,” she said. “We need to check communication systems to find out what went wrong.”

Jangmi affected 121,737 people, of which 80,186 are in evacuation centres, according to the national disaster monitoring agency, which said that 53 people were killed overall.

The storm’s death toll was nearly triple that of the last major storm to hit the country, Super Typhoon Hagupit, earlier this month.

Hagupit, with winds of 210 kilometres (130 miles) per hour, sparked a massive evacuation effort as it brought back memories of the strongest storm ever to hit the country, Super Typhoon Haiyan, whose 230-kilometre per hour winds left 7,350 dead or missing in 2013.

In Misamis Oriental province, floods flattened rice and corn fields resulting in an estimated USD 9 million in damages, Governor Yevgeny Emano told.“We were caught by surprise, we didn’t expect that we would be hit by the eye of the storm,” Emano said, although he noted he had received some warnings.

In Leyte — the province worst-hit by Haiyan — the rains brought landslides and floods that closed off major roads, Governor Leopoldo Domenico Petilla said.

Mina Marasigan, the national disaster monitoring agency’s spokeswoman, defended the government’s handling of the storm saying weather warnings were sent out even as Jangmi was still forming over the Pacific Ocean.

“Maybe people underestimated the situation because it’s a tropical depression, not a super typhoon. They dismissed it as weak,” she said.

“We need to study what happened in this storm closely and find ways for the public to better understand storm warnings,” Marasigan added.

Most of the deaths were reported Tuesday in the eastern and central islands, including areas that were devastated last year by Typhoon Haiyan, which killed over 6,300 people. Five bodies were recovered from a house buried by a landslide in Tanauan town, eastern Leyte province, which suffered extensive damage during Haiyan.

Tuesday’s deaths included 12 people caught in a landslide near eastern Catbalogan City, according to the AP. Among the victims were people trapped in two vans and six homes when the landslide hit.

The storm, known locally as Tropical Storm Seniang, made landfall early Monday morning on the east coast of Mindanao, the Philippines’ southernmost and second largest island. Flooding on Mindanao wiped out several highways and bridges. Evacuation centers were inundated with thousands of people seeking shelter from the storm. Jangmi then marched northwest across the Visayas, a collection of islands circling the Visayan Sea. The heaviest rainfall was felt in the central Philippines, according to

Rough seas on Monday kept nearly 13,400 people stranded on the islands, where ferries are a primary mode of travel. Warnings remained in effect Tuesday as the storm made its way toward the South China Sea. Meteorologists expected the storm to move beyond the Philippines by New Year’s Day. Jangmi could reach southern Thailand and northern Malaysia by Saturday, according to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

More than 3.9 million people were forced from their homes in November 2013 after Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the islands. Tens of thousands of people were injured in the storm, widely considered one of the strongest storms to ever make landfall, according to CNN.

Wednesday 31 December 2014

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Liberia Ebola victims can be buried after cremation decree relaxed

Liberia's government has purchased a plot of land to form a graveyard for Ebola victims, relaxing a much-contested order that all Ebola victims' bodies must be cremated.

Ciatta Bishop, head of the national Ebola burial team, said on Tuesday that the government has secured a 25-acre site when victims of the deadly disease can now be buried, Associated Press reports.

The decree which made disposing of deceased Ebola victims through cremation compulsory has been highly unpopular in Liberia, where funeral traditions are carefully followed and are considered a sacred obligation to the deceased.

The Liberian government ordered victims must be cremated, because corpses of Ebola victims remain highly contagious. Many healthcare workers in the affected West African state have contracted the virus after washing or moving dead bodies.

The new burial site in Liberia's capital has been created on land acquired from the Disco Hill district at a cost of $50,000 (£32,000).

Mr Nyenswah said the new site would be staffed by trained burial teams and would accommodate Muslim and Christian ceremonies.

He said the site would allow "dignified and safe burials, where people can practise their rituals but not touch dead bodies".

A memorial to Ebola victims who have been cremated will also be erected there, he added.

More than 2000 corpses of suspected Ebola victims had been cremated after the decree was ordered at the height of the crisis in Liberia several months ago.

The corpses of Ebola victims are highly contagious, and many of those who washed or touched bodies before their burials contracted the disease.

Bishop warned the public that in returning to normal burials "we have to be careful now" so that the process does not lead to a flare-up in Ebola cases.

"They just must not touch bodies otherwise... we will have problems again and the number (of Ebola cases) will rise," Bishop said.

The cremation decree is highly unpopular in Liberia, where funeral traditions are carefully followed and are considered a sacred obligation to the deceased.

Many families have tried to secretly bury their relatives' bodies to avoid them being taken away by burial teams for cremation.

The number of people infected by Ebola in the three countries worst affected by the outbreak has passed 20,000, with more than 7,842 deaths in the epidemic so far, according to the World Health Organisation. Cumulative case numbers in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea stood at 20,081, WHO said in a statement.

Wednesday 31 December 2014

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AirAsia QZ8501: Bad weather hampers recovery of bodies

Efforts to locate victims and wreckage of AirAsia flight QZ8501 which crashed into the Java Sea in Indonesia on Sunday are being hampered by stormy weather and strong tides.

Indonesian officials have confirmed that remains and debris found in the waters off Borneo are from the plane.

The authorities say that seven bodies have now been retrieved.

The first two bodies from the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 crash have arrived back in the Indonesian city of Surabaya, where relatives are waiting.

Next of kin have been asked for DNA samples to help identify the victims.

The Airbus A320-200, carrying 162 people from Surabaya to Singapore, disappeared on Sunday and remains were located in the sea on Tuesday.

The authorities say seven bodies have been retrieved, but bad weather is hampering further salvage efforts.

A public memorial will be held in Surabaya on Wednesday evening local time, and the governor of East Java province has told the BBC that all New Year's Eve celebrations have been cancelled.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has promised a "massive search by the ships and helicopters" with the focus on recovering the bodies of victims.

The bodies were flown to Surabaya's Juanda airport on Wednesday afternoon from a hospital in Pangkalan Bun, where they had been sent from the crash site.

Another five bodies are reported to be on board a ship on their way to a harbour near Pangkalan Bun.

Four of the seven bodies are male and three female, one of them a flight attendant.

One search and rescue agency official, Tatang Zaenudin, said one of the bodies was wearing a life jacket but this has not been confirmed.

Jump media playerMedia player helpOut of media player. Press enter to return or tab to continue.Pilot's friend: "He was very professional and experienced and a humble man"

But strong winds and 2m waves have slowed down the recovery of bodies and debris, with helicopters mostly grounded and divers prevented from searching the waters.

Ships already in place are continuing the search. Mr Fernandes said they were expecting to operate round the clock.

The weather is forecast to deteriorate further, with heavy rains until Friday.

Next of kin of passengers and crew have been asked for DNA samples to help identify the bodies when they come in.

The BBC's Alice Budisatrijo in Surabaya says concerns are growing that the remains will be too difficult to identify after more than three days in the water.

"Now we are focused on praying for the victims," said Soekarwo, who uses one name like many Indonesians. "This is a big tragedy for Indonesia and we will do our best for the victims and their families."

As the relatives of the QZ8501 passengers and crew wait for the bodies of their loved ones to return to Surabaya, the Indonesian officials are trying to assure them that everything is being done to ensure a swift process.

It is day four since the aircraft went missing from the radar and concerns are growing that the remains will be too difficult to identify. News of bad weather hampering the recovery efforts is another setback for the grieving relatives.

Many say the government and Air Asia have been handling the tragedy as well as they could but all the relatives want is for their loved ones to be properly identified so they can be laid to rest.

Aircraft from several countries were set to scan the sea in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Divers were also being deployed to search for bodies and for the plane's "black box" flight recorders.

But officials said heavy rain, strong winds and waves of up to 3m (10ft) had forced them to suspend the air operation, though ships already in place were continuing the search.

The head of Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency, Bambang Soelistyo, said another body had been retrieved from the sea on Wednesday, bringing the total to seven. One was a woman wearing cabin crew uniform.

Two of the bodies have now been flown to a hospital in Pangkalan Bun in the Borneo province of Central Kalimantan. A ship carrying four bodies is on its way to a harbour near the town.

They will be eventually be taken to Surabaya, which is on the island of Java, for identification.

On board the plane were 137 adult passengers, 17 children and one infant, along with two pilots and five crew.

Most were Indonesian but the passengers included one UK national, a Malaysian, a Singaporean and three South Koreans.

It is not yet clear what happened to the plane but its last communication was a request from air traffic control to move up to avoid bad weather. The pilot did not respond when given permission

A three-day search ended on Tuesday when remains including aircraft parts, luggage and the bodies believed to be passengers were found in the Karimata Strait, south-west of Pangkalan Bun.

Bambang Soelistyo said a shadow had been spotted under the water, which appeared to be in the shape of a plane. Later reports said a large object had been identified by sonar.

The Associated Press news agency quoted one official as saying the bodies of victims could end up being washed up on beaches.

"It seems all the wreckage found has drifted more than 50km from yesterday's location," Vice Air Marshal Sunarbowo Sandi said.

Pictures of debris and bodies were shown on Indonesian TV to distraught relatives waiting at Surabaya's Juanda international airport.

Those watching the pictures were visibly shocked, with some collapsing.

The search is being led by Indonesia but is a multinational effort. Singapore has sent ships equipped with sensors to detect pings that may be emitted from the plane's black boxes.

Malaysia, Australia and Thailand are also involved, while the US destroyer USS Sampson has been sent to the zone.

Wednesday 31 December 2014

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China factory explosions kill 17 workers

A gas explosion at an auto parts factory in southern China killed 17 people and injured 33 others on Wednesday, state media reported.

Three of the injured were in critical condition, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The Southern Metropolis Daily said witnesses heard three blasts at the Fuhua Engineering and Manufacturing Co. factory in Foshan city. The blasts destroyed the facility's walls and ceiling and also damaged a nearby glass factory and other plants.

Pictures on the newspaper's website showed panels blown off the building's structure and people lying injured on the ground. Xinhua said the factory was closed for cleaning at the time of the blast.

Officials were investigating the cause of the explosion, it said.

The tragedy in Foshan came just hours after the Chinese government revealed that the death toll in the country’s worst industrial accident in 2014 — an explosion at another auto parts factory in August — was double the number originally reported.

On Tuesday night, the State Administration of Work Safety said that at least 146 workers at Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products in eastern Jiangsu province had died in the incident, compared with initial reports of 75 deaths.

The government added that it had sacked the party secretary and mayor in Kunshan, an important export hub near Shanghai, and also sanctioned a deputy provincial governor over the accident in which a room filled with metal dust exploded.

Another 18 people, including Kunshan Zhongrong’s chairman, will be prosecuted and could receive severe punishments.

On December 27, a court in the northeastern Jilin province convicted more than a dozen executives and officials for alleged lapses that contributed to a poultry plant fire that claimed 121 lives in June 2013.

In November, two coal mine disasters and a fire at a food processing plant claimed the lives of another 55 Chinese workers.

Wednesday 31 December 2014

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How will the AirAsia QZ8501 victims be identified? Indonesian Police begin search for DNA evidence

Hospitals in Surabaya, Indonesia, were preparing Tuesday to receive and identify bodies recovered in the Java Sea that Indonesian officials said may have come from the wreckage of the missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501. The plane en route from Surabaya to Singapore was carrying 162 people on board, including 16 children and an infant. At least 40 bodies were sighted and six were recovered Tuesday from the waters off the coast of Borneo, according to the Independent.

Based on the precedent set by previous airline disasters, including the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July, experts are likely set to begin a long process of identifying the remains. The victims were due to be identified at Surabaya’s Bhayangkara Hospital, though the condition of the bodies remained unclear, something which could possibly affect the identification process, the Independent said. Early reports suggest that the bodies sighted by investigators were found in a bloated condition, according to the New York Times.

In similar cases of mass disaster, the first step forensic experts take is collecting certain information about the victims before their death, including their age, hair color and stature, all of which may assist in their identification, according to the Daily Mail. DNA is also collected from the remains, usually from parts of the body with the least amount of degradation, particularly deep muscle tissue. This data is then cross-referenced with DNA samples collected from victim’s homes, including from toothbrushes or combs. Experts can also use DNA samples from close family members, such as a parent or child to make the identification.

Once investigators are able to establish that a particular remain belongs to an individual, they will have a record of that person’s DNA and will be able to connect it with other remains. “It ends up being a kind of giant jigsaw puzzle of trying to place every body part based on its DNA or some other identifying characteristics,” David Foran, director of the forensic science program at Michigan State University said, according to the Guardian in July after Flight MH17 was shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. In March, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared over the South China Sea with 239 on board, and the plane has yet to be found.

While DNA can be recovered even in the case of severe damage to the bodies, there are also other ways to collect primary identification evidence, such as fingerprints and dental records. This information is then backed up with secondary information, such as tattoos or signs of previous surgeries, the Guardian reported.

Police in Indonesia have already begun collecting materials from the families of the victims, including DNA samples and fingerprints. The passengers on the flight include 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans as well as people from Malaysia, Singapore, France and Britain.

Wednesday 31 December 2014

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