Death toll rises to 44 as typhoon Lekima wreaks havoc in eastern China

Firefighters search for survivors in collapsed houses damaged by a landslide after Typhoon Lekima hit Shanzao village in Yongjia county, Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, China August 11, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING (Reuters) – The death toll from typhoon Lekima in eastern China rose to 44 people on Monday morning, according to official data, as the storm continued up the coast, racking up billions of dollars in economic losses and widely disrupting travel.

An additional 12 people were recorded dead from the storm, including seven from Zhejiang province and five from Shandong, with 16 people missing, according to data from provincial emergency bureaus and state media.

A wave brought by typhoon Lekima breaks on the shore next to a pedestrian in Qingdao, Shandong province, China August 11, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

A wave brought by typhoon Lekima breaks on the shore next to a pedestrian in Qingdao, Shandong province, China August 11, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

State broadcaster CCTV had put the death toll at 32 on Sunday.

Typhoon Lekima made landfall early on Saturday in China’s Zhejiang province, with winds gusting up to 187 kmh (116 mph). The center of the storm has since traveled north through Shandong and off the coast.

Many of the earlier deaths occurred when a natural dam collapsed in Zhejiang after a deluge of 160 mm (6.2 inches) of rain within three hours.

The Shandong Emergency Management Bureau said more than 180,000 people were evacuated in the province, adding to an earlier evacuation of roughly 1 million people in Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces as well as the financial hub of Shanghai.

The latest update from Shandong brings the total estimated economic toll of the storm to 18 billion yuan ($2.55 billion) in China, including damage to 364,000 hectares of crops and more than 36,000 homes. Shandong alone estimated the total economic impact on agriculture was 939 million yuan.

Qingdao, a popular tourist hub in eastern Shandong, issued a red alert on Sunday, closing all its tourist sites and suspending 127 trains and all long-distance bus services, according to official media.

Lekima is China’s ninth typhoon this year. China’s state broadcaster said on Sunday more than 3,200 flights had been canceled but that some suspensions on high-speed railway lines had been lifted.

The typhoon was expected to weaken as it heads northwest off the coast of Shandong into the ocean east of China’s capital, Beijing.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Paul Tait)

Brazil’s grief turns to anger as death toll from Vale disaster hits 60

Members of a rescue team search for victims after a tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA collapsed, in Brumadinho, Brazil January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

By Gram Slattery

BRUMADINHO, Brazil (Reuters) – Grief over the hundreds of Brazilians feared killed in last week’s mining disaster has quickly hardened into anger as victims’ families and politicians say iron ore miner Vale SA and regulators have learned nothing from the recent past.

By Monday, firefighters in the state of Minas Gerais had confirmed 60 people dead in Friday’s disaster, in which a tailings dam broke sending a torrent of sludge into the miner’s offices and the town of Brumadinho. Nearly 300 other people are unaccounted for, and officials said it was unlikely that any would be found alive.

A member of a rescue team is sprayed with water to remove mud, upon returning from a rescue mission, after a tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA collapsed, in Brumadinho, Brazil January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Washington Alves

A member of a rescue team is sprayed with water to remove mud, upon returning from a rescue mission, after a tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA collapsed, in Brumadinho, Brazil January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Washington Alves

Shares of Vale, the world’s largest iron ore and nickel producer, plummeted 21.5 percent in Monday trading on the Sao Paulo stock exchange, erasing $16 billion

in market cap.

Brazil’s top prosecutor, Raquel Dodge, said the company should be held strongly responsible and criminally prosecuted. Executives could also be personally held responsible, she said.

Brazil’s Vice President Hamilton Mourao, who is acting president since Monday morning when Jair Bolsonaro underwent surgery, also said the government needs to punish those responsible for the dam disaster.

In a tweet, Brazilian Senator Renan Calheiros asked Justice Minister Sergio Moro “how many people should die before federal police charges Vale management before key evidence disappears.” Moro is a previous judge in charge of Brazil’s largest-ever corruption probe.

Israeli military personnel arrive to help search for victims of a collapsed tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA, at Confins airport in Belo Horizonte, Brazil January 27, 2019. REUTERS/Washington Alves

Israeli military personnel arrive to help search for victims of a collapsed tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA, at Confins airport in Belo Horizonte, Brazil January 27, 2019. REUTERS/Washington Alves

One of Vale’s lawyers, Sergio Bermudes, told newspaper Folha de S. Paulo that the executives should not leave the company and that Calheiros was trying to profit politically from the tragedy.

Vale Chief Executive Fabio Schvartsman said during a visit to Brumadinho on Sunday that facilities there were built to code and equipment had shown the dam was stable two weeks earlier.

The disaster at the Corrego do Feijao mine occurred less than four years after a dam collapsed at a nearby mine run by Samarco Mineracao SA, a joint venture by Vale and BHP Billiton, killing 19 and filling a major river with toxic sludge.

While the 2015 Samarco disaster dumped about five times more mining waste, Friday’s dam break was far deadlier, as the wall of mud hit Vale’s local offices, including a crowded cafeteria, and tore through a populated area downhill.

“The cafeteria was in a risky area,” Renato Simao de Oliveiras, 32, said while searching for his twin brother, a Vale employee, at an emergency response station.

“Just to save money, even if it meant losing the little guy… These businessmen, they only think about themselves.”

As search efforts continued on Monday, firefighters laid down wood planks to cross a sea of sludge that is hundreds of meters wide in places, to reach a bus in search of bodies inside. Villagers discovered the bus as they tried to rescue a nearby cow stuck in the mud.

A rescue helicopter flies after a tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA collapsed, in Brumadinho, Brazil January 27, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

A rescue helicopter flies after a tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA collapsed, in Brumadinho, Brazil January 27, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

Longtime resident Ademir Rogerio cried as he surveyed the mud where Vale’s facilities once stood on the edge of town.

“The world is over for us,” he said. “Vale is the top mining company in the world. If this could happen here, imagine what would happen if it were a smaller miner.”

Nestor José de Mury said he lost his nephew and coworkers in the mud.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, it killed everyone,” he said.

SAFETY DEBATE

The board of Vale, which has raised its dividends over the last year, suspended all shareholder payouts and executive bonuses late on Sunday, as the disaster put its corporate strategy under scrutiny.

“I’m not a mining technician. I followed the technicians’ advice and you see what happened. It didn’t work,” Vale CEO Schvartsman said in a TV interview. “We are 100 percent within all the standards, and that didn’t do it.”

Many wondered if the state of Minas Gerais, named for the mining industry that has shaped its landscape for centuries, should have higher standards.

“There are safe ways of mining,” said Joao Vitor Xavier, head of the mining and energy commission in the state assembly. “It’s just that it diminishes profit margins, so they prefer to do things the cheaper way – and put lives at risk.”

Reaction to the disaster could threaten the plans of Brazil’s newly inaugurated president to relax restrictions on the mining industry, including proposals to open up indigenous reservations and large swaths of the Amazon jungle for mining.

Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque proposed in an interview late on Sunday with newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo that the law should be changed to assign responsibility in cases such as Brumadinho to the people responsible for certifying the safety of mining dams.

“Current law does not prevent disasters like the one we saw on Brumadinho”, he said. “The model for verifying the state of mining dams will have to be reconsidered. The model isn’t good.”

The ministry did not immediately respond to questions about the interview.

German auditor TUV SUD said on Saturday it inspected the dam in September and found all to be in order.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery; Additional reporting by Tatiana Bautzer; Editing by Frances Kerry and Marguerita Choy)

Rescuers arrive for 3,000 stranded after Laos dam collapse: media

Aerial view shows the flooded area after a dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 25, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. MIME PHOUMSAVANH/via REUTERS

By James Pearson and Panu Wongcha-um

SEKONG, Laos (Reuters) – Rescue teams from China and Thailand headed on Wednesday into a remote part of landlocked Laos, where more than 3,000 people were stranded after a dam collapse sent a deluge of water across a swathe of villages, domestic media said.

The Vientiane Times, citing district Governor Bounhom Phommasane, said about 19 people had been “found dead”. While nearly 3,000 had been plucked to safety, more than that number were awaiting rescue, many on the rooftops of submerged homes.

A senior Lao government official told Reuters by telephone from the capital, Vientiane, that dozens were feared dead after the failure of the dam – a subsidiary structure under construction as part of a hydroelectric project – on Monday.

“We will continue with rescue efforts today, but it’s very difficult, the conditions are very difficult. Dozens of people are dead. It could be higher,” said the official, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

A United Nations report on the disaster put the death toll at five, with 34 missing, 1,494 evacuated and 11,777 people in 357 villages affected. It said 20 houses were destroyed and more than 223 houses and 14 bridges damaged by the flooding.

However, a government official said hundreds were reported missing after at least seven villages were submerged in the Attapeu province, the southernmost part of the country.

State media showed pictures of villagers, some with young children, stranded on roofs of submerged houses, and others trying to board wooden boats.

Villagers are evacuated after the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Villagers are evacuated after the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

REMOTE LOCATION

Experts said the remoteness of the affected area could hamper relief operations.

“The roads are very poor,” Ian Baird, a professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Laos expert, told Reuters by telephone.

“People don’t usually go in that area during the rainy season. There are mountains nearby that villagers might be able to get up on … I don’t think anybody really knows for sure.”

State media said a joint team of Lao and Chinese rescuers would reach Attapeu on Wednesday afternoon, and it showed a long line of cars with boats on trailers heading into the country from northeast Thailand. South Korea and Singapore have also offered to help in the rescue effort.

Laos, one of the world’s few remaining communist states and one of Asia’s poorest countries, has ambitions to become the “battery of Asia” through the construction of multiple dams.

Its government depends almost entirely on outside developers to build the dams under commercial concessions that involve the export of electricity to more developed neighbors, including power-hungry Thailand.

Rights groups have repeatedly warned against the human and environmental cost of the dam drive, including damage to the already fragile ecosystem of the region’s rivers.

Attapeu is a largely agricultural province that borders Vietnam to the east and Cambodia to the south.

The dam that collapsed was part of the $1.2 billion Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy power project, which involves Laotian, Thai and South Korean firms. Known as “Saddle Dam D”, it was part of a network of two main dams and five subsidiary dams.

People walk through flooded area after being brought to safety by boat in Sanam Xay district, Attapeu Province, Laos after a hydropower dam under construction in Southern Laos collapsed, in this still picture taken from social media video obtained July 24, 2018. ATTAPEU TODAY/ via REUTERS

People walk through flooded area after being brought to safety by boat in Sanam Xay district, Attapeu Province, Laos after a hydropower dam under construction in Southern Laos collapsed, in this still picture taken from social media video obtained July 24, 2018. ATTAPEU TODAY/ via REUTERS

MONSOON RAINS

The project’s main partner, South Korea’s SK Engineering Construction, said part of a small supply dam was washed away and the company was cooperating with the Laos government to help rescue villagers.

The firm blamed the collapse on heavy rain.

Laos and its neighbors are in the middle of the monsoon season that brings tropical storms and heavy rain. Lao state media also posted images of flash flooding, with buildings and roads under water, further north in Khammouane province.

An official at SK Engineering Construction said fractures were discovered on the dam on Sunday and the company ordered the evacuation of 12 villages as soon the danger became clear.

Shares in major stakeholders of SKEC fell on Wednesday. SKEC’s biggest shareholder, SK Holdings Co, was down 6.2 percent in its biggest daily percentage loss since Feb. 11, 2016. The second-biggest shareholder, SK Discovery Co Ltd, slid as much as 10 percent.

Laos expert Baird said the collapse of the subsidiary dam was unlikely to affect others in the project.

“The water’s all out of the reservoir now and the water levels are already going down but I don’t think they’ll be able to fix it until the dry season,” he said.

Hydropower dams on the Mekong River’s lower mainstream pose a serious threat to the region, International Rivers, which works to stop destructive hydropower projects in Laos, said in April.

Predicted impacts include a decrease of 30 to 40 percent in fisheries by 2040 as well as a drastic cut in food security and farm productivity, as well as greater poverty in much of the Lower Mekong Basin.

Laos has finished building 11 dams, says Thai non-government group TERRA, with 11 more under construction and dozens planned.

(Additional reporting by Amy Lefevre in BANGKOK, Fanny Potkin in JAKARTA and Heekyong Yang in SEOUL; Writing by Amy Lefevre and John Chalmers)

Death toll from Vietnam storm tops 60 and dams near bursting

Officials sail a boat out of a submerged local government building after typhoon Damrey hits Vietnam in Hue city, Vietnam November 5, 2017.

By Mai Nguyen

DANANG, Vietnam (Reuters) – The death toll from a typhoon and ensuing floods in Vietnam reached 61 on Monday and the government said some reservoirs were dangerously near capacity after persistent rain.

Typhoon Damrey tore across central Vietnam at the weekend just days before the region is due to host the APEC summit of Asia-Pacific leaders, among them U.S. President Donald Trump, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

The Communist state’s Search and Rescue Committee said 61 people had been killed and 28 were recorded as missing. It said some of the victims were in vessels that capsized at sea. Others were killed in landslides. It did not give a full breakdown.

More than 2,000 homes had collapsed and more than 80,000 had been damaged, it said. Roads that had been flooded or washed away caused traffic jams across several provinces.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc chaired an emergency meeting on the disaster. Ministers said that because some dams were so full, water might need to be released to relieve pressure – potentially worsening flooding downstream.

In Danang, authorities called on soldiers and local people to clean up so that the beach resort would be ready for delegates to the meetings of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries, which started on Monday.

Leaders are due to meet from Nov. 10 and organizers said the schedule had not been disrupted because of the weather.

But in much of the ancient town of Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage site that spouses of APEC leaders are scheduled to visit on Saturday, muddy waters rose to head height and people boated through the streets.

People ride a boat along submerged houses in UNESCO heritage ancient town of Hoi An after typhoon Damrey hits Vietnam November 6, 2017.

People ride a boat along submerged houses in UNESCO heritage ancient town of Hoi An after typhoon Damrey hits Vietnam November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

Hoang Tran Son, 37, who left his home there when the water reached his chest, said it was the worst flooding he had seen for decades.

“We’re pretty much all right in the city, but people in remote areas are devastated,” he said.

The storm moved from the coastal area into a key coffee-growing region of the world’s biggest producer of robusta coffee beans. The typhoon had damaged some coffee trees at the start of the harvest season, farm officials said. But farmers in Daklak, the heart of the region, said the damage was limited.

Authorities said that more than 7,000 farm animals had been killed.

Floods killed more than 80 people in northern Vietnam last month, while a typhoon wreaked havoc in central provinces in September. The country of more than 90 million people is prone to destructive storms and flooding, due to its long coastline.

 

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

 

Hundreds leave homes near dangerously crumbling Puerto Rico dam

Local residents look at the flooded houses close to the dam of the Guajataca lake. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Dave Graham and Robin Respaut

SAN JUAN (Reuters) – Most people living near a crumbling dam in storm-battered Puerto Rico have been moved to safety, Governor Ricardo Rossello said on Monday, as he urged the U.S. Congress to fund an aid package to avert a humanitarian crisis after Hurricane Maria.

Most of the Caribbean island, a U.S. territory with a population of 3.4 million, is still without electricity five days after Maria swept ashore with ferocious winds and torrential rains, the most powerful hurricane to hit Puerto Rico for nearly a century.

There have been growing concerns for some 70,000 people who live in the river valley below the Guajataca Dam in the island’s northwest, where cracks were seen appearing on Friday in the 88-year-old earthen structure.

An aerial view shows the damage to the Guajataca dam. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

An aerial view shows the damage to the Guajataca dam. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Rossello said he was working on the assumption that the dam would collapse. “I’d rather be wrong on that front than doing nothing and having that fail and costing people lives,” he said in an interview with CNN.

“Some of the dam has fallen apart and now we’re making sure that we can assess if the other part is going to fall down as well. … Most of the people in the near vicinity have evacuated.”

It was unclear if the governor was saying that most of the 70,000 valley inhabitants had left the area, or only the several hundred people living in the small towns closest to the dam. About 320 people from those towns have moved to safety, according to local media.

The fear of a potentially catastrophic dam break added to the difficulties facing disaster relief authorities after Maria, which was the second major hurricane to strike Caribbean this month and which killed at least 29 people in the region.

At least 10 of those who died were in Puerto Rico, including several people who drowned or were hit by flying debris, and three elderly sisters who died in a mudslide.

Many structures on the island, including hospitals, remain badly damaged and flooded. Clean drinking water is hard to find in some areas. Very few planes have been able to land or take off from damaged airports.

After Maria caused widespread flooding, the National Weather Service warned of further flash floods in some western parts of the island on Monday as thunderstorms moved in.

The hurricane hit at a time when Puerto Rico was already battling economic crisis. [nL2N1M31LR]

Rossello said on Monday that before the storms struck he had been embarking on an aggressive fiscal agenda that included more than $1.5 billion in cuts.

“This is a game changer,” the governor told CNN. “This is a completely different set of circumstances. This needs to be taken into consideration otherwise there will be a humanitarian crisis.”

In Washington, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said Congress was working with President Donald Trump’s administration to make sure the necessary assistance reaches Puerto Rico.

“Our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico remain in our prayers as we make sure they have what they need,” Ryan said in a statement.

Local residents react while they look at the water flowing over the road at the dam of the Guajataca lake.

Local residents react while they look at the water flowing over the road at the dam of the Guajataca lake.
REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Maria continued to weaken and would likely be downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm by Tuesday night, the National Hurricane Center said. As of 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT) on Monday, it was about 315 miles (505 km) south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, heading slowly north, the center said.

The storm was unlikely to hit the continental United States directly, but a tropical storm warning was in effect for much of the North Carolina coast. Officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for visitors to Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks, beginning at 5 a.m. ET (0900 GMT) on Monday.

 

(Reporting by Dave Graham and Robin Respaut; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely in New York and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Frances Kerry)