Friday, 28 August 2015

Update: 71 bodies of refugees found in Austria lorry

Police in Austria say the bodies of 71 people, thought to be migrants, were found in an abandoned lorry found on a motorway on Thursday.

The bodies of 59 men, eight women and four children are thought to have been dead for one-and-a-half to two days.

Police said the victims appeared to be migrants from Syria and probably died after suffocating in the vehicle.

The state of the bodies had made establishing an exact death toll difficult. Their identities were also not known, said Hans Peter Doskozil, head of police in the eastern district of Burgenland. “The deaths already occurred some time ago,” he added. “We can make no concrete assumptions about the origin or cause [of death]. We can assume, however, that they are refugees.”

Three people, thought to be Bulgarian, have been detained in Hungary. They are believed to have driven the lorry.

Police sent to investigate the dumped lorry on the A4 motorway towards Vienna discovered the decomposing bodies on Thursday morning.

The 7.5-tonne vehicle used to belong to the Slovak chicken meat company Hyza and still has the slogan “Honest chicken” on the side. The company said it sold the lorry in 2014. According to the Hungarian government, it is registered to a Romanian citizen from the central city of Kecskemét.

Road officials said on Thursday that an employee mowing the grass alerted police after noticing putrid liquid dripping from the back of the white refrigerated vehicle. Its door had been left ajar. Detectives then made the grim discovery.

Forensic teams at the scene examined the lorry, which has Hungarian number plates. Lindsey Hilsum of Channel 4 News tweeted that the “smell of death” at the scene was overwhelming. On Thursday afternoon, police towed the vehicle to a nearby hall and began removing bodies.

The vehicle was towed to a customs building with refrigeration facilities where forensic teams worked through the night to examine the bodies.

The group are thought to have been dead when the vehicle crossed into Austria from Hungary. Among the victims was a girl aged between one and two years old.

The 71 victims, including four children, are thought to be from Syria.

The local police chief said a travel document found on the vehicle suggested that the group were Syrian migrants.

"Our preliminary assumption is of course that they were refugees, possibly a group of Syrian refugees," Hans Peter Doskozil, Burgenland province police chief, told reporters.

One of those arrested is assumed to be the owner of the vehicle, Mr Doskozil said, while it is "highly likely" the other two are "the ones who drove the vehicle".

He said there was "an indication we are talking about a Bulgarian-Hungarian human trafficking operation".

"If you look at the organisation of people traffickers, these are the lowest two levels of a criminal organisation," he added.

'No ventilation'

The vehicle had the branding of a Slovakian poultry company, Hyza, on it but the firm said it no longer owned the vehicle.

Mr Doskozil said it was unusual for people smugglers to use a refrigerated vehicle.

"In our preliminary investigation we found that there was no ventilation possible through the sides of the lorry," he said, adding that the victims had probably suffocated.

The lorry, which has Hungarian number plates, is understood to have left Budapest on Wednesday morning.

Truck sightings

- Early Wednesday: Police believe the truck set off from south-east of Budapest

- 09:00 Wednesday: Truck recorded on cameras at Hegyeshalom on the Hungarian side of the border with Austria

- 05:00 or 06:00 Thursday: Truck seen parked in lay-by on A4 motorway between Neusiedl and Parndorf

- 11:30 Thursday: Austrian police open the truck and find bodies

Tens of thousands of migrants from conflict-hit states in the Middle East and Africa have been trying to make their way to Europe in recent months.

A record number of 107,500 migrants crossed the EU's borders last month.

Some of them pay large sums of money to people smugglers to get them through borders illegally.

Meanwhile, migrants continue to die as they try to reach Europe via the central Mediterranean route.

Hundreds of people are feared to have died after two vessels carrying migrants sank off the coast of Libya on Thursday.

Friday 28 August 2015

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Tide of death: Libya struggles to cope as migrants' bodies wash ashore

They set out full of hope, clutching a few cherished belongings, or the hand of a loved one as they stepped onto the overcrowded, barely seaworthy boats they thought would take them to new lives in Europe.

But within hours, their journeys across the Mediterranean ended in tragedy. Now days, weeks, or even months later, their bodies are washing up on the beaches of Libya.

And with no stable, functioning government to take control of the situation, ordinary Libyans are struggling to cope with the tide of human remains.

Mohammed Misrati, spokesman for the Libyan Red Crescent Society in Tripoli, says most of the migrants' bodies wash up along a stretch of Libya's western coast, in Zuwara, Khoms and Sabrata -- where many of their journeys began.

"We collected 40 bodies in just one operation in Zuwara," explains Misrati, adding that while he doesn't have exact numbers, he believes the problem is "much worse" this year.

"It's a problem we've faced for a long time but it's never been this bad," he says. "In previous years it used to be in the dozens, now it's in the hundreds."

According to the International Organization for Migration, the number of refugees and migrants who have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean this year has already passed 2,000; as of mid-August some 264,500 had arrived successfully in Europe.

With no officials or authorities stepping in to deal with the situation, Misrati says volunteers from the Libyan Red Crescent have been left to cope alone, patrolling the region's beaches in search of remains.

"The corpses wash up on shore and our volunteers are having to move the bodies and manage the remains of the dead," he said.

The LRCS relies on 7,000 volunteers across the country; they come from diverse backgrounds and have varying levels of expertise, but many are not trained to deal with human remains.

"It is psychologically difficult for them," says Misrati. "What is especially difficult is the sight of the corpses, seeing human remains reduced to meat and bones, often without any way to trace their origin or families."

After collecting the bodies, LRCS's volunteers take them to local hospitals, where the authorities take charge of the remains and attempt to identify them, where possible, and contact the appropriate embassy or community.

The local authorities also bear responsibility for burying the dead, in graveyards in Tripoli for Muslims, non-Muslims, and the unidentified.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is helping its Libyan team train and equip the volunteers.

Ammar Ammar, spokesman for the ICRC in North Africa and the Middle East, says it has instructed more than 80 volunteers this month in the proper handling of human remains, as well as providing body bags and personal protection kits.

"Due to the prevailing security situation and as no system is set in place for handling dead bodies, the LRCS conduct these activities as an auxiliary to the authorities," Ammar said.

"Their role is limited to the collection and transfer of dead bodies to the competent authorities," he said.

Aside from the challenges of dealing with bodies that wash up in Libya, the LRCS helps worried families try to trace missing migrants, and offers assistance to those lucky enough to be rescued at sea.

"The ones who survive are taken to detention centers," explains Misrati, "The Red Crescent visits them [there] to see their conditions, to offer some small financial assistance for a dignified life."

Even before the recent spike in refugee and migrant-related responsibilities, Misrati says his organization already had its hands full.

"We have other roles, helping the hospitals, their needs, offering psychological support. We're trying to find help for more than 550,000 Libyans who are internally displaced."

Without that help, many more of those displaced people may decide they have no other option but to take their chances in one of those overcrowded boats.

Friday 28 August 2015

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Half of Trigana crash victims identified

The National Police said its Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) team had managed to identify only 27 bodies of the 54 people on board the Trigana Air plane that crashed in Oksibil, Papua, on Sunday.

The team identified bodies of 27 victims based on their dental and medical records as well as objects attached to their bodies, the police added.“The DVI team has confirmed the identities of 27 victims from the 54 body bags handed over to Bhayangkara Police Hospital using primary and secondary data.

To identify the remaining 27 victims, we will wait for DNA test results from the forensic laboratory at the National Police headquarters,” said the head of the Papua Police medical and health center, Sr. Comr. Ramon Aminam in Jayapura on Thursday.

The three latest bodies identified by the DVI team are Elipad Uropmabin, 22, a university student from Pegunungan Bintang regency; Hosea Uropdana, 50, the Pegunungan Bintang education agency head; and Jackson Wayam, 24, a resident of Kampung Kabiding, Oksibil.

Ramon said some victims may still be unable to be identified when the DNA test results were ready as it was probable that some bodies were still left at the Trigana crash site.

“There are still 27 bodies that need to be identified. If we find less than that number in the DNA test results, there may be some victims’ bodies not yet recovered from the scene of the plane crash.

We don’t know what condition they would be in,” said Ramon.The DVI team has been working to identify bodies from the Trigana Air crash since Aug. 20. The team has identified three out of five Trigana crew members.

They are pilot Hasanuddin, co-pilot Ariadin Falani and flight attendant Dita Amelia Kurniawan.“Thank God, three crew members have been found. Two more crew members, a technician and a flight attendant, are yet to be identified,” said the head of PT Trigana Air Papua, Budiawan.

The Papua Police said they were investigating a suspected violation involving Trigana Air ticket sales as the names of 10 crash victims did not match with the flight’s passenger list. “The Papua Police have continued to investigate alleged ticket resale practices [related to the] Trigana aircraft.

Ten people were not on the passenger list but were on board the aircraft. We are investigating 16 witnesses,” said Papua Police spokesperson Sr. Comr. Rudolf Patrick.

The Trigana Air flight IL 267, a PK-YRN aircraft, crashed while travelling from Jayapura to Oksibil, Pegunungan Bintang, Papua, on Aug.16.

Friday 28 August 2015

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August 30, 1965: Worst avalanche disaster in Switzerland’s history.

Workers on the hydro electric scheme in the Saas Valley, high up in the Swiss Alps, had just finished up for the day and were settling down in their barracks when they were struck by an icy blast of wind. It bowled people over, flattened power poles and knocked down wooden buildings like they were matchsticks.

In the wake of the wind came a huge wall of ice, rocks and snow that tore through the small workers’ village burying almost 100 people.

The disaster, which happened 50 years ago this weekend, would claim the lives of about 90 people, one of the worst avalanche death tolls in Switzerland’s history.


Work on the dam had started in 1961, with a team of 400 Swiss, French and Italian workers. One of the major reasons for its construction had been to mitigate floods caused by meltwater from the Allalin glacier. Since the 17th century the spill of floodwaters from Mattmarksee (Lake Mattmark) had threatened villages in the valley below at least two dozen times. A dam would allow waters spilling over from Mattmark to be captured, preventing flash floods, but another benefit was that it would also provide electricity from a hydro electric plant. Cheap, clean energy especially through winter when it was needed most.

There were some concerns about the moving glacier dangling high above the dam, but it had not caused avalanches in the past.

In 1963, a team of experts examined the glacier during a period when it had been rapidly advancing, but deemed it no threat to the dam works below and work on the project continued.

Although some might have considered the construction an eyesore in what is otherwise a breathtakingly beautiful part of the world, the dam was a point of pride for the Swiss, an engineering marvel, part of a government initiative for hydro power.

It attracted bus loads of tourists, many of them from the holiday resorts Saas Fee and Saas Almagel several kilometres further down the valley. Some of them were visiting the site on August 30, 1965.


What neither they nor the workers knew was that a great chunk of ice from the Allalin glacier was poised ready to snap off. It would later be understood that the glacier goes through cycles of retreat, followed every two to three years by rapid advances. In 1965 it began one of those advances which pushed the ice over a rock ledge.

It was thought this overhanging chunk of ice was disturbed by vibrations from the incessant rumbling of equipment in the valley below, as construction went on around the clock to get as much done as possible before the blizzard season. Day-shift workers had knocked off and were having dinner, with night-shift workers on their way to work. Others were resting in the barracks, socialising and playing cards.

Alois Hauser, a mountaineer from Zurich who was heading for a refuge hut high above the glacier, witnessed the moment the ice snapped. He said later it sounded like explosions, followed by a roar that shook the earth.


Tourists on the dam wall also watched in horror as the ice rushed toward the workers’ camp, knocking over trucks and cars on the road down from the dam and flattening the camp. Miraculously, the dam and the tourists on it were spared.

Although the power was knocked out, a phone line stayed intact, enabling help to be summoned. Only five people were dug out alive. Some sources set the death toll at 88 although others report as many as 97 people died. More than 50 of the dead were Italian migrants.

Avalanches have been a constant danger in that part of the world. In the 1930s, a Commission for Snow and Avalanche Research was set up, primarily to protect soldiers stationed in the Alps after thousands had died during World War I. While research in the wake of disasters like the Mattmark Dam has helped to avert major disasters, avalanches still take lives in Switzerland. In 1999 Switzerland suffered a particularly bad season during which 1300 avalanches occurred, killing 17 people, including two in the ski resort of Evolene.


- 1618 the entire town of Plurs was buried by an avalanche, killed as many as 2500 people

- 1718 Two avalanches in one day flatten the town of Leukerbad,

killing 52. - 1888 200 people are killed by avalanches in the Wassen Valley

- 1951 A particularly destructive avalanche season saw more than 90 people killed.

Friday 28 August 2015

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2 migrant boats capsize off Libyan coast, hundreds feared dead

Two boats carrying migrants capsized off the Libyan coast, with hundreds feared dead, a news report said on Friday.

More than 100 bodies had been taken to hospital in the nearest town of Zuwara on the western Libyan coast, the BBC reported, citing a local resident, with hundreds more missing.

The coast guard managed to rescue 201 people, but many more were apparently trapped in the hold of the larger vessel, the report said.

The first boat, with around 50 people, signalled for help on Thursday. The second one was carrying around 400 passengers when it sank later, it said.

The bodies taken to hospital were of migrants from Syria, Bangladesh and southern African countries, the resident reportedly told the BBC.

“We have recovered 30 bodies so far and rescued dozens of people, with dozens more still missing after a boat carrying around 200 migrants sank off [the western port of] Zuwara,” a coast guard official told AFP.

"We are working with very limited resources. Most of the boats we use are fishing boats that we borrow from their owners," he said.

The migrants so far accounted for were all of African origin, the official said, adding that rescue efforts were ongoing but would be “intensified” on Friday morning.

On Wednesday, around 17 migrants drowned after their boat capsized off the same coast. The coast guard said 20 people were saved, mostly from Nigeria and Ghana.

The same day, around 30 bodies were recovered from the hull of a boat carrying some 400 migrants, intercepted 50km north of Libya, according to the Italian coast guard.

The victims were apparently asphyxiated by the engine. The BBC put the number of bodies found at 51.

The sinking comes a day after at least 55 bodies were discovered on three overcrowded migrant boats, 52 of whom were found in the hold of one wooden vessel off Libya’s coast.

Wednesday’s gruesome discovery was made by a Swedish coast guard vessel whose crew plucked hundreds of other migrants from the waters off the North African nation.

People smugglers have taken advantage of the chaos gripping Libya since the 2011 uprising toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi to step up their lucrative business.

But the Mediterranean crossing is treacherous, and more than 2,300 migrants and refugees have died trying to reach the European Union this year alone.

Unprecedented numbers of refugees are braving the crossing as they flee war, persecution and poverty in the Middle East as well as Africa and Asia.

Friday 28 August 2015

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Fort Kochi boat tragedy death toll rises to 10

With the recovery of two more bodies on Friday, the death toll in Fort Kochi's boat tragedy rose to 10, police said.

The Marine Enforcement found the body of a man who has not been identified yet. Another body was found on Friday morning and was identified to be of Fousia, a Kumbalangi native.

Navy, Coast Guard and Marine police personnel, had on Thursday found body of a man floating in the backwaters in the Island area of the city.

He has been identified.

Confusion over number of passengers

The exact number of passengers on board the boat at the time of the mishap was yet to be ascertained.

Police, however, said preliminary investigation indicates that there were about 35 people in the boat, said to be over three-decades old, which capsized and sank after being allegedly hit by a speeding fishing craft in the harbour mouth off Fort Kochi on Wednesday.

About 25 passengers were rescued from the sinking boat on Wednesday. Nineteen passengers have been admitted to various hospitals in the city.

Four passengers who are seriously injured in the accident have been admitted in a private hospital here, police said.

Financial aid

Meanwhile, Kerala government has sanctioned an ex-gratia of five lakh rupees to the families of those killed in the boat tragedy.

Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala said the severely injured would be given a compensation of Rs 1 lakh. The government will take care of the medical expenses of the injured passengers.

The passenger vessel was on its way from Vypin to Fort Kochi when it was hit by the fishing craft at the harbour mouth at about 1.40 pm on Wednesday.

It was the quick rescue operations initiated by the local people and tourists, who were witness to the tragedy, that saved lives of several passengers, eye witnesses said.

Reports said that the driver of the fishing boat did not have a valid licence.

Ill-fated boat

The ill-fated boat, that was built 35 years ago, was given port directorate's fitness certificate till 2017, reports accessed by Manorama News proves.

However, the manufacturing date of the boat is not mentioned in the certificate. The fitness certificate valid till 2013 was renewed only last year.

According to the fitness certificate, the boat should have 42 lifebuoys. However, the boat had only 3 lifebuoys, passengers said.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who visited the injured in the hospital on Wednesday evening, had said the government will bear the treatment expense of the people admitted in various hospitals.

The passenger vessel was on its way from Vypin to Fort Kochi when it was hit by the fishing craft at the harbour mouth at about 1.40 pm on Wednesday.

Swift response saved lives The swift response of the local people helped minimise the casualties in the boat mishap at Fort Kochi on Wednesday. The people near the Kamalakadavu jetty and fisherfolk resting in fishing vessels swung into action soon after the disaster.

The first to jump into the water were two foreign tourists, according to an eyewitness. The duo, a man and a woman, plunged into the water and saved three persons, he said. The details of the foreigners couldn’t be confirmed as they left the place soon after the incident. As the mishap took place near the jetty, the casualties did not go up, according to those who took part in the rescue operations.

“If it had happened in the middle of the shipping channel, the rescue efforts would have been difficult as the area has a depth of over 11 metres and very strong currents,” said Anas, a native of Fort Kochi. The local people started rescue efforts even before the arrival of the Coast Guard, Navy and Fire and Rescue services, he said.

Although the Navy and Coast Guard officials carried out extensive rescue operations, the search for drowned passengers could not be completed as it took a long time to lift the passenger vessel from the waters. A divers’ team from the Navy and Chetak helicopter was also pressed into service.

Thousands of people crowding the area made the relief work difficult with some people turning aggressive against the police and mediapersons. A section of the crowd showered abuses on the crew of TV channels accusing them of ‘feasting’ on a tragedy. The crowd also warned against shooting the visuals on mobile phones with the threat that such mobiles would be thrown into the water.

Friday 28 August 2015

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Truck with 50 dead refugees found in Austria

Austrian police found the decomposing bodies of up to 50 migrants in an abandoned truck, sparking a cross-border hunt for the people-smugglers responsible for the latest tragedy in Europe's migrant crisis.

The grisly discovery near the Slovakia and Hungary borders came as at least 30 more migrants drowned in the Mediterranean and European leaders again met to try to find ways to handle the tide of people seeking refuge in the European Union.

Highway tolling booth cameras registered the truck on the Hungarian side of the border at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, and then again at 5 a.m. on Thursday, suggesting, that the truck had crossed into Austria sometime overnight. The dead are believed to be migrants who suffocated.

The vehicle – a refrigerated lorry with Hungarian licence plates – was found parked off the A4 motorway between Parndorf and Neusiedl am See.

Austrian police said the vehicle found Thursday abandoned in the emergency lane of a motorway had "decomposing body fluids" dropping from it.

When they opened it, there was a powerful stench of human decay and the bodies lay piled on top of each other, crammed into a small rectangular space in a sea of tangled limbs.

Officers at the scene were unable to determine the exact number of dead, assess people's gender or determine whether there were any children among them.

There were "at least 20, but there could be as many as 40 or 50", said police spokesman Hans Peter Doskozil.

The van had the markings of a Slovakian poultry company and Hungarian number plates. More details, including the confirmed number of dead, were expected Friday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in Austria for a summit with Balkan leaders on the crisis, said she was "shaken" by the "horrible" news.

"This is a warning to us to tackle this migrants issue quickly and in a European spirit, which means in a spirit of solidarity, and to find solutions," Merkel said.

"Today is a dark day... This tragedy affects us all deeply," Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told a press conference.

Mikl-Leitner vowed to crack down on the people who pocket exorbitant sums to arrange migrants' passage to Europe, and then often leave them stranded en route.

"Human traffickers are criminals," she said.

Hungary said it would join the investigation into the tragedy.

Friday 28 August 2015

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