Indonesia relief efforts in Lombok stepped up as new quakes kill 10

Debris is seen on a road at Kayangan Port, after an earthquake hit Lombok, Indonesia, August 20, 2018, in this picture obtained from social media. Bayu Wiguna/via REUTERS

MATARAM, Indonesia (Reuters) – At least 10 people were killed by strong tremors that rocked Indonesia’s holiday island of Lombok on Sunday, authorities said following the latest in a series of earthquakes that killed hundreds and forced thousands to flee their homes in recent weeks.

Nearly 500 people have died in quakes and aftershocks since July 29 across the northern coast of the island, which lies just east of Indonesia’s top tourist destination, Bali.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman at the national disaster mitigation agency, said on Monday relief and reconstruction efforts had been “intensified”.

“The rebuilding of public facilities like hospitals and schools is being speeded up,” he said.

He said more than 100 aftershocks had been recorded since Sunday night’s magnitude 6.9 quake, which sent panicked residents into the streets and cut power and communication lines across the island.

Aftershocks ranging between magnitude 4 and 5 were continuing on Monday morning and access to some areas had been cut off by landslides triggered by the tremors, according to officials in Mataram, Lombok’s main city.

Sunday’s quake came exactly a fortnight after another 6.9 magnitude earthquake which killed around 460 people and prompted massive search, rescue and relief efforts.

Authorities estimate that the Aug.5 earthquake caused 5 trillion rupiah ($342 million) of damage on Lombok.

Hundreds of thousands of residents have been left homeless and are camped out in open fields, refusing to shelter indoors due to continuing tremors.

Aid organizations like Save The Children said they were “ready to scale up their humanitarian response”.

“The population feels like it’s had the rug pulled from under them with this new quake,” said Caroline Haga, humanitarian & emergency communications specialist with the Red Cross.

(Additional reporting by Fanny Potkin and Kanupriya Kapoor; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Ed Davies and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Death toll from Indonesia quake climbs over 320

An aerial view of the collapsed Jamiul Jamaah mosque where rescue workers and soldiers search for earthquake victims in Pemenang, North Lombok, Indonesia August 8, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Zabur Karuru/ via REUTERS

By Angie Teo

PEMANANG, Indonesia (Reuters) – The death toll from a huge 6.9 magnitude earthquake in Indonesia’s Lombok island has climbed to more than 320, officials said on Friday, even as relief efforts picked up pace.

The national disaster mitigation agency said it had verified 321 deaths and that over 270,000 people had been forced to flee their homes because of a series of tremors over the past two weeks.

On Thursday, the death toll from Sunday’s quake jumped to 259.

A fresh 5.9 magnitude aftershock prompted fresh panic in the north of the popular holiday destination on Thursday.

Nearly 75 percent of residential structures have been destroyed in northern Lombok because of poor construction unable to withstand strong tremors, the agency said in a statement.

“Aid is being distributed as quickly as possible upon arrival,” Sutopo Nugroho, spokesman for the agency said in a statement, adding that hundreds of volunteers were assisting the efforts.

Mobile kitchens have started distributing much-needed food and water to thousands of evacuees in the worst-hit areas, he said, after several days’ delay due to poor access and communications.

President Joko Widodo on Friday said he was delaying plans to visit Lombok until next week, citing concerns over continuing aftershocks.

“After the emergency period is over, the government will undertake rehabilitation, reconstruction, repairs to residential areas and public facilities,” the cabinet secretariat website quoted Widodo as saying.

Widodo visited the island after a 6.4 magnitude quake on July 29 killed 17 people and injured dozens more.

The quakes have prompted tourists to flee during what is otherwise the peak season for the island destination famous for its beaches.

(Additional reporting by Jessica Damiana in Jakarta; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Alison Williams)

‘Go now’, Hawaii residents warned as eruptions spread

Lava advances along a street near a fissure in Leilani Estates, on Kilauea Volcano's lower East Rift Zone, Hawaii, the U.S., May 5, 2018. U.S. Geological Survey/Handout via REUTERS

By Terray Sylvester

PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) – Emergency authorities battling lava flows and gas erupting from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano told some residents to “Go now” as a new fissure opened and more structures were destroyed.

Kilauea has destroyed 26 homes and forced 1,700 people to leave their residences since it erupted on Thursday, spewing lava and toxic gas from volcanic vents in a small area of Hawaii’s Big Island.

A new fissure spraying lava fountains as high as about 230 feet (70 m), according to United States Geological Survey, is shown from Luana Street in Leilani Estates subdivision on Kilauea Volcano's lower East Rift Zone in Hawaii, U.S., May 5, 2018. US Geological Survey/Handout via REUTERS

A new fissure spraying lava fountains as high as about 230 feet (70 m), according to United States Geological Survey, is shown from Luana Street in Leilani Estates subdivision on Kilauea Volcano’s lower East Rift Zone in Hawaii, U.S., May 5, 2018. US Geological Survey/Handout via REUTERS

A new fissure opened on Sunday night in the Leilani Estates area some 12 miles from the volcano, prompting a cellphone alert for residents to leave homes to avoid sulfur dioxide gas, which can be life threatening at high levels.So far no fatalities or major injuries have been reported from the volcano, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency.

Evacuees from Leilani Estates were allowed to return for pets, medications and to check property on Sunday, but some like Jeremy Wilson found homes surrounded by fissures that can be hundreds of feet long.

“My house is right in the middle,” said Wilson, who turned back in his car when he saw steam coming from cracks in the road ahead.

The semi-rural wooded area of Leilani Estates had become a magnet for newcomers to Hawaii’s Big Island who were prepared to risk living near to an active volcano in return for more affordable real-estate prices.

Eruptions of lava and gas were expected to continue, along with aftershocks from Friday’s 6.9 magnitude earthquake, the largest in the area since 1975, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. A lava flow advanced 0.6 of a mile from one of the vents.

Lava emerges from the ground after Kilauea Volcano erupted, on Hawaii's Big Island May 3, 2018, in this still image taken from video obtained from social media. Jeremiah Osuna/via REUTERS

Lava emerges from the ground after Kilauea Volcano erupted, on Hawaii’s Big Island May 3, 2018, in this still image taken from video obtained from social media. Jeremiah Osuna/via REUTERS

Geologists said the activity looked like an event in 1955 when eruptions continued for 88 days in the area and covered around 4,000 acres with lava.

Jessica Gauthier, 47, said she and other local realtors had seen vacation renters cancel their reservations, even though the volcanic activity is confined to a relatively isolated area far from tourist centers.

“There’s no way to know that if you’re sitting in your living room in Ohio and watching the national news,” she said.

Gauthier predicted business would pick up as a new kind of visitor began to appear.

 

County workers deliver cots and blankets to an evacuation center in Pahoa available to residents of the Puna communities of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens who were forced to leave their homes after the Kilauea Volcano erupted on Thursday in Hawaii, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

County workers deliver cots and blankets to an evacuation center in Pahoa available to residents of the Puna communities of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens who were forced to leave their homes after the Kilauea Volcano erupted on Thursday in Hawaii, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

“Within a month we’ll start getting lava tourists,” she said of people who come to Hawaii to see its active volcanoes.

Hawaii County authorities requested lava watchers keep away.

“This is not the time for sightseeing. You can help tremendously by staying out of the area,” the civil defense agency said in a statement.

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester; Writing by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Toby Chopra)

A month after PNG quake, cash-strapped government struggles to help the hardest-hit

FILE PHOTO - A supplied image shows locals inspecting a landslide and damage to a road located near the township of Tabubil after an earthquake that struck Papua New Guinea's Southern Highlands, February 26, 2018

By Tom Westbrook

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Almost a month after a deadly earthquake, Papua New Guinea is struggling to get aid to desperate survivors, having allocated just a fraction of its relief funds, while a rent dispute left disaster officials briefly locked out of their offices.

The scale of the emergency is testing the finances and capacity of one of the world’s poorest countries, disaster and relief officials say, after the magnitude 7.5 quake rocked its remote mountainous highlands on Feb. 26, killing 100 people.

Thousands of survivors have walked to remote airstrips and jungle clearings, awaiting helicopters bringing supplies of food, water and medicines, aid agencies and authorities say.

“To date, we do not have any money to do all the necessary things,” Tom Edabe, the disaster coordinator for the hardest-hit province of Hela, said by telephone from Tari, its capital.

“(The) government is trying to assist and have budgeted some money, but to date we have not received anything…we have only been given food, and non-food items supplied by other NGOs.”

Continuing aftershocks rattle residents, who have to collect water brought by daily rainstorms to ensure adequate supplies, Edabe, the disaster coordinator, said.

“The biggest thing that people need, apart from food, is water,” said James Pima, a helicopter pilot and flight manager at aviation firm HeliSolutions in the Western Highlands capital of Mt. Hagen, about 170 km (100 miles) from the disaster zone.

“They don’t have clean water to cook or drink … they are standing there staring. The expression on their faces is blank.”

His firm’s three helicopters fly relief missions “fully flat-out every day,” Pima added.

Destruction to roads and runways means authorities must rely on helicopters to fly in relief. But while nimble, the craft can only carry smaller loads than fixed-wing aircraft and cannot fly during the afternoon thunderstorms.

The logistics problems wind all the way to PNG’s disaster center, where officials told Reuters they had been locked out of their office in Port Moresby, the capital, for two days last week after the government missed a rental payment.

“That was correct, Monday and Tuesday,” a spokeswoman said.

In a joint report with the United Nations published on Friday, the agency cited “lack of quality data” about food shortages, limited aircraft assets and “significant gaps” in sanitation support as being the biggest problems it faced.

The office of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill did not respond to emailed questions from Reuters.

On his website, O’Neill has previously said, “There will be no quick fix, the damage from this disaster will take months and years to be repaired.”

‘POLITICAL GAMES’

The government had approved relief funds amounting to 450 million kina ($130 million), O’Neill said initially, but a later statement mentioned only 3 million kina in initial relief – or less than 1 percent – had been allocated to the worst-hit areas.

In its November budget, the government made plans to rein in spending and trim debt projected to stand at 25.8 billion kina in 2018.

The impoverished country is also missing its largest revenue earner, after the quake forced a shutdown of Exxon Mobil Corp’s liquefied natural gas project, which has annual sales of $3 billion at current LNG prices. The firm is still assessing quake damage at its facilities.

O’Neill last week hit out at critics of the aid effort for playing “political games,” while thanking Australia and New Zealand for military aircraft that provided assistance beyond the capacity of PNG’s own defense forces.

His political opponent, former Prime Minister Mekere Morauta, had called the government’s response “tardy” and inadequate.

“Relief sources say mobile medical centers and operating theaters are needed urgently, and that only international partners can supply them,” Morauta said last week.

Foreign aid pledges of about $49 million have come in from Australia, China, the European Union, Japan, New Zealand and the United States, says the United Nations, most of it provided by private companies.

Exxon and its partner, Oil Search Ltd, say they have provided $6 million in cash and kind for quake relief.

Local officials say the scale of destruction, with villages buried by landslides and provincial towns flattened, has overwhelmed authorities in Papua New Guinea, which straddles the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire.

“Policemen are still struggling because there is no support flying in and out,” said Naring Bongi of the quake-damaged police station in the Southern Highlands capital of Mendi.

“There is not enough food to supply care centers, they need fresh water,” he added.

 

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Shakes and superstition: Exxon faces backlash in Papua New Guinea

FILE PHOTO: The ExxonMobil Hides Gas Conditioning Plant process area is seen in Papua New Guinea in this handout photo dated March 1, 2018. ExxonMobil/Handout via REUTERS/File Phot

By Jonathan Barrett and Henning Gloystein

SYDNEY/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A deadly earthquake that struck ExxonMobil’s $19 billion gas project in the mountains of Papua New Guinea is sparking a backlash against the U.S. energy giant that could prove harder to fix than buried roads and broken pipes.

Some spooked locals blame Exxon <XOM.N> and its project partners of causing, or at least magnifying, the 7.5 magnitude quake on Feb. 26 and a series of intense aftershocks that continue to pound the impoverished and isolated region.

While firmly denied by Exxon and debunked by geologists, the accusations suggest that the project known as PNG LNG, one of the most successful liquefied natural gas (LNG) developments in the world, is sorely lacking goodwill from at least parts of the local population.

The concerns about the project – the country’s biggest revenue earner – are even being expressed at senior levels in the Papua New Guinea government.

PNG’s Vice Minister for Petroleum and Energy, Manasseh Makiba, told Reuters in a phone interview there should be an inquiry to respond to local concerns that mother nature had reacted after the ground was disturbed by drilling.

Graphic on Papua New Guinea’s earthquakes and aftershocks: http://reut.rs/2tq3zY6

“It could be man-made but that cannot be confirmed until a proper scientific inquiry can be done,” said Makiba, who represents parts of the quake-hit area. “We need to resolve that.”

PNG’s Minister for Finance James Marape has also demanded answers from the company.

“In a world of science and knowledge, I now demand answer(s) from Exxon and my own government as to the cause of this unusual trend in my Hela,” wrote Marape on his private feed on Facebook, referring to the quake-struck province.

He is among many who have lit up social media in PNG, with blogs and Facebook posts pointing the finger at the oil and gas sector’s alleged contribution to the disaster.

Around Exxon’s operation, communities remain fearful as the death toll climbs, with 18 more killed by a 6.7 magnitude aftershock on Wednesday.

Papua New Guinea straddles the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire.

Chris McKee, acting director of the Geohazards Management Division in Port Moresby, said there was no link between the project and seismic activity, which has included more than 120 quakes of magnitude 4.5 and greater in the week after the initial hit.

Graphic on Papua New Guinea government revenue and LNG income – http://reut.rs/2D3KAlP

“Earthquake activity has been going on much longer than the oil and gas industry presence in the region – there is no connection at all,” McKee said.

Scientific evidence strongly suggests the earthquake was “naturally occurring and consistent with prior events”, an Exxon spokeswoman said in a statement.

CORPORATE SUPPORT

Led by Exxon, with a one-third stake, and its Australian partners Oil Search <OSH.AX> and Santos <STO.AX>, PNG LNG could be shut for months as it inspects pipelines, the processing plant and the gas field for damage.

Exxon said it was giving $1 million to assist communities affected by the earthquake and was providing on-the-ground support to relief agencies so that resources could reach areas in greatest need.

“Logistics remains a challenge with roads cut and communication with remote communities difficult,” a company spokeswoman said. “We are continuing to provide logistics and human resources to help aid agencies to deliver support to our communities for the long term as they recover from this event.”

Oil Search Managing Director Peter Botten said he had not witnessed any local animosity toward the LNG project. Oil Search was constantly balancing the need for relief aid and keeping the community-sustaining business going when allocating post-quake resources, he said.

Graphic on share price performance of oil majors – http://reut.rs/2FeHCRw

“There’s a lot of concern the gods have been offended and specifically this is about education, and what earthquakes are about,” Botten told Reuters in a phone interview from PNG’s capital Port Moresby. “This is a communication issue.”

Most of the nations 8 million inhabitants live in remote communities where traditional beliefs remain strongly held.

SHAKY GROUND

Exxon has previously faced resentment in PNG, which contains vast natural resources but remains desperately poor.

Martyn Namorong, national coordinator for landowner rights and governance lobby group PNG Resource Governance Coalition, said the quake had reawakened concerns raised in 2012 when a landslide tore through a quarry used by Exxon, killing at least 25 people.

“It’s not just a localized thing or an ignorant thing. People are wondering what might be the contributing factor of oil and gas extraction,” said Namorong, referring to the quake.

Exxon said at the time it had closed the Tumbi quarry five months before the landslide.

“Tumbi was a tragic event that had its own unique set of circumstances,” Exxon told Reuters in an email, without elaborating.

Concerns flared again last year when the oil major had to evacuate staff due to unrest in Hela province, where the project’s Hides Gas processing unit is located.

The trouble was linked to national elections and disputes over royalties from the PNG LNG project, which generates around $3 billion in sales per year at current LNG prices.

“PEOPLE ARE TERRIFIED”

The earthquake forced a closure of the Hides Gas processing facility which feeds a 700-km (435 miles) pipeline snaking through the jungle to the LNG plant and export terminal near Port Moresby.

The disruption in Papua New Guinea comes shortly after Exxon reported disappointing results, with PNG LNG a rare bright spot. Its shares have underperformed compared with its main competitors Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP  and Total.

“PNG LNG had reportedly been running at a very healthy 20 percent above nameplate capacity… There will be some hit to the PNG industry,” said Readul Islam, research analyst at consultancy Rystad Energy.

If repairs take long, the quakes could even delay plans with France’s Total to double output to around 16 million tonnes per annum at an estimated cost of $13 billion.

The companies plan to add three new LNG units, or trains, with two underpinned by gas from the Elk-Antelope fields, run by Total, and one underpinned by existing fields and a new Exxon-run field.

Repairs have been complicated by landslides blocking roads and the closure of the Komo airfield, which is the main lifeline of the region to the outside world.

Oil Search’s Botten said, importantly, the integrity of the gas facilities had been maintained and there were no leaks.

Still, the aftershocks have kept the local population on edge.

“The people are terrified,” said Australian Sally Lloyd, from near the quake zone in Mount Hagen. “They think the world is coming to an end.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett in SYDNEY and Henning Gloystein in SINGAPORE; additional reporting by Gary McWilliams in HOUSTON and Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Papua New Guinea aid workers race to deliver supplies as aftershocks strike

People displaced by an earthquake gather at a relief centre in the central highlands of Papua New Guinea March 1, 2018. Milton Kwaipo/Caritas Australia/Handout via REUTERS

By Sonali Paul and Charlotte Greenfield

MELBOURNE/WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Aid workers struggled to reach remote areas of Papua New Guinea’s rugged highlands on Tuesday as aftershocks rattled the region, more than a week after a powerful 7.5 magnitude earthquake killed dozens of people.

Two aftershocks above magnitude 5 and one of magnitude 6.7 hit the mountainous Southern Highlands, about 600 km (370 miles) northwest of the capital Port Moresby, with the constant shaking driving people from their homes to makeshift shelters for fear of landslides.

There were no immediate reports of damage from the magnitude 6.7 tremor, which struck shortly after midnight, Wednesday morning, local time.

Local media outlets on Tuesday reported the death toll had grown to 75, after government officials said previously that 55 people had been killed.

James Komengi, a United Church project officer, speaking from Tari, the capital of quake-affected Hela province, said his church’s assessment and response center had counted up to 67 deaths in that province alone.

“Mothers and children are so traumatized. Even my own children are refusing to sleep in our house. Every little movement scares them,” said Komengi.

Concerns were also growing about access to safe drinking water after the shaking destroyed many water tanks, while land slips had poured mud into natural water sources.

“Because of the landslides … it’s very dirty water,” said Udaya Regmi, Director the International Red Cross in Papua New Guinea. Provincial health officials and Red Cross volunteers were urgently trying to improve sanitation systems and carry out hygiene training to avoid an outbreak of dystentry, Regmi said.

Local hospitals had seen a number of people with stomach conditions, but it was not yet confirmed whether these were due to contaminated water, he added.

Aid agencies were struggling to get aid by helicopter to all of the nearly 150,000 people who remained in urgent need of emergency supplies.

“The logistics are still a massive problem,” said Anna Bryan, an aid worker for CARE Australia based in the capital Port Moresby.

Australia, New Zealand and the Red Cross have all pledged aid, although reaching the remote area has proved difficult as forbidding terrain and bad weather, as well as damaged roads and runways, have delayed aid efforts.

“Right now the main challenge in the affected areas is accessibility by roads. There are big cracks along the roads and even roads completely cut off. So that’s making it quite difficult to get water, food and medicine to the remote areas,” said Milton Kwaipo, Caritas Australia’s disaster response and management officer in Papua New Guinea.

The quake has also been felt on global gas markets, with ExxonMobil Corp declaring force majeure on exports from Papua New Guinea, according to an industry source, pushing up Asian spot liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices.

The company declined to comment on the force majeure, but said it would take about 8 weeks to restore production.

 

(Reporting by Sonali Paul in MELBOURNE, Charlotte Greenfield in WELLINGTON and Byron Kaye in SYDNEY; editing by Richard Pullin and Kevin Liffey)

Big Mexico quake cuts power and damages homes; two dead in crash

People stand on the street after an earthquake shook buildings in Mexico City, Mexico February 16, 2018.

By Lizbeth Diaz and Daina Beth Solomon

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A prolonged 7.2 magnitude quake that rocked Mexico on Friday left nearly a million homes and businesses without power in the capital and south but the only reported deaths came when a military helicopter crashed after surveying the aftermath.

At least 50 homes suffered damage in the southern state of Oaxaca, which, along with Mexico City, is still reeling from earthquakes that caused widespread damage in September.

The epicenter was about 90 miles (145 km) from Pacific coast surfer resort Puerto Escondido in the southern state of Oaxaca and had a depth of 15.3 miles (24.6 km), according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

At least two people died when a helicopter carrying Mexico’s interior minister and the governor of Oaxaca crashed while trying to land after a tour of damage from the earthquake, officials said. The senior officials survived.

The powerful, sustained shaking on Friday gave way to 225 aftershocks, the national seismology service said, and caused widespread panic.

In Mexico City, the seismic alarm sounded 72 seconds before tremors were felt, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said, giving residents time to flee to the streets.

Patricia Gutierrez, a 66-year-old English teacher, was taking a nap with her 11-month-old granddaughter, Juliet, when she heard the distinctive siren.

“She recognized the sound. When I opened my eyes, I saw her eyes in terror. Her eyes were wide, like plates. She didn’t say anything,” Gutierrez said of her granddaughter.

Gutierrez managed to leave her ground floor apartment before the quake began. “I left the phone and everything except for my shoes and the baby,” she said.

Authorities said no deaths directly linked to the quake had been reported nationally.

BRICKS AND RUBBLE

The Oaxacan town of Jamiltepec appeared to sustain the heaviest impact in the southern region, with 50 homes damaged along with a church and government building, the state’s civil protection agency said.

Patients were evacuated from a hospital there and from another in the nearby town of Putla Villa de Guerrero. On a local highway, a fire ignited when two high-tension electric cables struck each other.

In the town of Pinotepa Nacional close to the quake’s epicenter, a photo obtained from Oaxaca’s civil protection agency showed a single-story building where a portion of the brick facade had crumbled into the street. A hospital was also damaged, and a collapsed structure blocked a major highway.

About 100,000 people in Oaxaca had lost power, the state’s governor said.

National oil firm Pemex said its installations were in order, including its biggest refinery 240 miles (386 km) from the epicenter. A hotel operator in Puerto Escondido said his property had no damage.

Tremors were felt as far away as Guatemala to the south.

Images in the media appeared to show bricks and rubble fallen from buildings, and products tumbling off shelves in a supermarket.

In Mexico City, tall buildings swayed for more than a minute as seismic alarms sounded, with older structures in the chic Condesa neighborhood knocking into each other, and some cracks appearing in plaster and paintwork.

The Popocatepetl volcano south of the capital sent a kilometer-high column of ash into the sky, said Mexico’s disaster prevention agency.

Two young men standing by a building that collapsed in a Sept. 19 earthquake were still hugging minutes after the tremor. People crowded in the streets, one lady in her pajamas.

Trees, overhead cables and cars swayed, and a fire truck raced down the street.

Guadalupe Martinez, a 64-year-old retiree, said she was still shaking from shock. But the quake was a far cry from the tremors that struck Mexico in September, Martinez said.

“This time it was strong, but it did not jump up and down,” she said.

(Reporting by Julia Love, Christine Murray, Michael O’Boyle, David Alire Garcia, Anthony Esposito and Stefanie Eschenbacher; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon and Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Lisa Shumaker and Tom Hogue)

Quake-hit Taiwan city winds down rescue efforts, five still missing

A body of a Hong Kong Canadian is carried out from a collapsed building after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 9, 2018.

By Fabian Hamacher and Natalie Thomas

HUALIEN, Taiwan (Reuters) – Rescue operations in Taiwan started to wind down on Friday after a devastating 6.4-magnitude earthquake rocked the tourist area of Hualien this week, taking a toll of 12 dead and five missing.

More than 270 people were injured when Tuesday’s quake hit the eastern coastal city just before midnight, toppling four buildings, ripping large fissures in roads and unleashing panic among the roughly 100,000 residents.

More than 200 aftershocks followed, hampering a round-the-clock rescue effort in which emergency personnel battled rain and cold to comb rubble in a search for survivors.

Efforts on Friday narrowed to finding five Chinese nationals still missing after rescuers pulled two bodies, identified as Canadian citizens from Hong Kong, out of a 12-storey residential building that had been left tilting at a 45-degree angle.

An excavator demolishes collapsed Marshal hotel after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 9, 2018.

An excavator demolishes collapsed Marshal hotel after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 9, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Authorities said they would focus their search on the single building where the five missing were believed to be.

“The military will continue to prioritize today rescuing the missing people in the Yun Men Tsui Ti residential building,” it said in a statement.

The building’s extreme displacement made the search tough, the government said in a statement, adding, “The space for our operations is small, so the progress of search and rescue can be slow.”

Power was restored to all affected areas in Hualien, although 8,500 homes are still without water.

The military will work with local government officials to develop a plan to demolish a hotel, a residential building and other dangerous buildings, it said in its statement.

The government vowed to redouble efforts to revise building regulations, aiming to limit damage in any future episodes.

Taiwan revised its building act on Jan. 30 to strengthen investigations of the structures of existing buildings and inspection of completed projects, the interior ministry said on Friday.

The revision, expected to be discussed by a cabinet meeting at the end of February, would also seek third-party views in building assessments, it said.

The government added that it would hasten reconstruction of old buildings to make them earthquake-resistant and work to boost the safety of other structures in affected areas.

“At every stage, the central government will fully assist local governments,” it added.

 

(Additional reporting by Tyrone Siu; Writing by Jess Macy Yu; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Clarence Fernandez)

Strong earthquake in southern Peru leaves one dead, scores injured

A man observes a damage building after a strong magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck the coast of southern Peru, in Acari, Arequipa , Peru, January 14, 2018.

By Marco Aquino

LIMA (Reuters) – A strong magnitude-7.1 earthquake struck the coast of southern Peru on Sunday morning, killing one person, injuring scores and causing homes and roads to collapse.

The quake hit offshore at 4:18 a.m. local time (0918 GMT) at a depth of around 36 km (22.4 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said. The epicenter was in the Pacific Ocean 40 km from the town of Acari.

Arequipa Governor Yamila Osorio said on Twitter that a 55-year-old man died in the town of Yauca after being crushed by rocks. Jorge Chavez, chief of Peru’s Civil Defense Institute, told local radio station RPP that 65 people were injured.

Several municipalities lost electricity, and many roads and adobe houses collapsed, Osorio said. Many residents of Lomas, a coastal town, were evacuated after feeling an aftershock.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski traveled to the towns of Chala and Acari, two of the areas most affected by the quake, to assess the damages and coordinate the response. He said some 100 houses had collapsed.

A man and a child stand at debris of a building after a strong magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck the coast of southern Peru, in Acari, Arequipa , Peru, January 14, 2018.

A man and a child stand at debris of a building after a strong magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck the coast of southern Peru, in Acari, Arequipa , Peru, January 14, 2018. REUTERS/Diego Ramos

“We are going to send everything that is needed, such as tents for people whose homes were destroyed,” Kuczynski told reporters in Chala.

Earthquakes are common in Peru, but many homes are built with precarious materials that cannot withstand the tremors.

In 2007 an earthquake killed hundreds in the region of Ica.

Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz said at a news conference in Lima that the government would declare a state of emergency in the affected zones to allow for faster reconstruction of roads and homes. Devastating floods last year resulted in $8 billion in rebuilding costs.

Peruvian maritime authorities said the quake did not produce a tsunami on the coast. In the morning, officials said a second person had died and that 17 people were missing in a mine, but later withdrew the reports.

Peru is the world’s No. 2 copper producer, although many mines in the south are located far inland from the quake’s epicenter. A Southern Copper Corp representative said there were no reports of damage at its Cuajone and Toquepala mines.

Jesus Revilla, a union leader at the Cerro Verde copper mine in Arequipa, said there were no reports that operations had been affected.

The quake was also felt in northern Chile, Peru’s southern neighbor, but authorities said there was no tsunami risk.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino and Luc Cohen; Additional reporting by Antonio de la Jara in Santiago; Editing by Louise Heavens, Lisa Von Ahn and Jeffrey Benkoe)

South Korea spy agency sees signs of planned new missile test by North

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a cosmetics factory in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on October 28, 2017.

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea may be planning a new missile test, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers on Thursday, after brisk activity was spotted at its research facilities, just days before U.S. President Donald Trump visits Seoul.

Reclusive North Korea has carried out a series of nuclear and missile tests in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, but has not launched any missiles since firing one over Japan on Sept. 15, the longest such lull this year.

However a flurry of activity including the movement of vehicles has been detected at the North’s missile research facilities in Pyongyang, where the most recent missile test was conducted, pointing to another possible launch, South Korea’s Intelligence Service said in a briefing to lawmakers.

It did not say how the activity was detected.

North Korea has made no secret of its plans to perfect a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. It regularly threatens to destroy the United States and its “puppet”, South Korea.

“There is a possibility of a new missile launch given the active movement of vehicles around the missile research institute in Pyongyang. The North will constantly push for further nuclear tests going forward, and the miniaturization and diversification of warheads,” the intelligence agency said at the briefing.

The North’s nuclear testing site in the northwestern town of Punggye-ri could have been damaged by its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sept. 3, according to Kim Byung-kee, Yi Wan-young and Lee Tae-gyu, members of South Korea’s parliamentary intelligence committee.

The explosion triggered an aftershock within eight minutes and three additional shocks.

Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi, citing unnamed sources, said on Tuesday a tunnel at the test site collapsed after that explosion, possibly killing more than 200 people. Reuters has not been able to verify the report which North Korea on Thursday denounced as false and defamatory.

Pyongyang will likely detonate more devices as it tries to master the miniaturization of nuclear warheads to put atop missiles, the lawmakers said.

The third tunnel at the Punggye-ri complex remained ready for another test “at any time”, while construction had resumed at a fourth tunnel, making it unable to be used “for a considerable amount of time”, they added.

Trump is to visit five Asian nations in coming days for talks in which North Korea will be a major focus. The visit includes the North’s lone major ally, China, and U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, which have watched with increasing worry as Trump and North Korea have exchanged bellicose rhetoric.

 

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Editing by Nick Macfie)