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)

At least two dead in magnitude 6.4 quake in Taiwan

The aftermaths of earth quake are seen in Hualien, Taiwan, February 6, 2018, in this picture grab obtained from social media video.

TAIPEI (Reuters) – A magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck near the coastal city of Hualien in Taiwan late on Tuesday, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said, killing at least two people and causing several buildings to collapse.

The quake struck about 22 km (14 miles) northeast of Hualien shortly before midnight, and the epicenter was very shallow at just 1km, the USGS said.

“Two people were unfortunately killed, and 114 have suffered light or severe injuries,” Taiwan’s Premier William Lai told an emergency government meeting.

A number of aftershocks hit the area, but there was no word of any tsunami warning.

Hualien is a popular tourist destination on Taiwan’s eastern coast and home to about 100,000 people.

“The president has asked the cabinet and related ministries to immediately launch the ‘disaster mechanism’ and to work at the fastest rate on disaster relief work,” President Tsai Ing-wen’s office said in a statement.

Lai said the government was urgently repairing a major highway damaged by the quake. He said the government would provide further updates on the situation later on Wednesday morning.

Among the buildings toppled in the quake was the Marshal Hotel in Hualien, where three people were trapped inside, the government said.

Four other buildings, including two hotels and a military hospital, also tilted during the quake in Hualien, which is located about 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of the capital, Taipei.

The government said two bridges in the city were either cracked or could not be used due to the quake.

On Sunday an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1 struck nearby.

Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China considers part of its territory, is prone to earthquakes.

More than 100 were killed in a quake in southern Taiwan in 2016, and some Taiwanese remain scarred by a 1999 earthquake with 7.6 magnitude whose impact was felt across the island and in which more than 2,000 people died.

(Reporting by Jess Macy Yu and Taipei bureau; Editing by Tony Munroe and Gareth Jones)

Rescuers race against time to find missing in California mudslides

A home on Glen Oaks Road damaged by mudslides in Montecito, California, U.S., January 10, 2018.

By Rollo Ross and Alan Devall

SANTA BARBARA, Calif (Reuters) – Rescue crews in Southern California resumed on Thursday the arduous task of combing through tons of debris for survivors from deadly mudslides that struck along the state’s picturesque coastal communities.

Seventeen people are confirmed dead and another 17 people are missing after a wall of mud roared down hillsides in the scenic area between the Pacific Ocean and the Los Padres National Forest, according to authorities in Santa Barbara County.

“Right now, our assets are focused on determining if anyone is still alive in any of those structures that have been damaged,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told Los Angeles television station KCAL.

A kitchen in a home on Glen Oaks Road damaged by mudslides in Montecito, California, U.S., January 10, 2018.

A kitchen in a home on Glen Oaks Road damaged by mudslides in Montecito, California, U.S., January 10, 2018. Kenneth Song/Santa Barbara News-Press via REUTERS

Some 500 rescuers using search dogs, military helicopters, and thermal imaging equipment are on scene.

Search and rescue efforts have been slow as crews have to navigate through waist-deep mud, fallen trees, boulders and other debris.

“Another tough day in Santa Barbara County as Search and Rescue, Fire and Law Enforcement personnel from across our county and our neighboring counties searched for survivors and evacuated people,” the sheriff’s office said on its Twitter feed late Wednesday night.

The devastating mudslides, which were triggered by heavy rains early on Tuesday, roared into valleys denuded by historic wildfires that struck the area last month.

The debris flow from the mudslides has destroyed 100 homes, damaged hundreds of other structures and injured 28 people, said Amber Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

Among the damaged properties were historic hotels and the homes of celebrities including television personality Oprah Winfrey and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, who both live in the upscale hillside community of Montecito.

DeGeneres said on her talk showing airing Thursday that the picturesque town of 9,000 is a “tight-knit” community.

“It’s not just a wealthy community, it’s filled with a lot of different types of people from all backgrounds,” she said. “And there are families missing, there are people who are missing family members…it’s catastrophic.”

A car sits tangled in debris after being destroyed by mudslides in Montecito, California, U.S., January 10, 2018.

A car sits tangled in debris after being destroyed by mudslides in Montecito, California, U.S., January 10, 2018. Kenneth Song/Santa Barbara News-Press via REUTERS

Last month’s spate of wildfires, including the Thomas Fire – the largest in the state’s history – stripped hillsides of vegetation and left behind a slick film that prevented the ground from absorbing rainwater.

“First we got burned out at our ranch that caught on fire and now we’re flooding, so the last month has been pretty bad,” said Charles Stoops, as he stood in front of his house, which was surrounded in mud three feet (nearly a meter) deep.

(Additional reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver, Alex Dobuzinskis and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Scott Malone and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Tom Brown, Leslie Adler, William Maclean)

Typhoon leaves flooding, four dead in Japan before moving out to sea

A collapsed road is seen following torrential rain caused by typhoon Lan in Kishiwada, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo on October 23, 2017. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – A rapidly weakening typhoon Lan made landfall in Japan on Monday, setting off landslides and flooding that prompted evacuation orders for tens of thousands of people, but then headed out to sea after largely sparing the capital, Tokyo.

Four people were reported killed, hundreds of plane flights canceled, and train services disrupted in the wake of Lan, which had maintained intense strength until virtually the time it made landfall west of Tokyo in the early hours of Monday.

At least four people were killed, including a man who was hit by falling scaffolding, a fisherman tending to his boat, and a young woman whose car had been washed away by floodwaters.

Another casualty was left comatose by injuries and a man was missing, NHK public television said. Around 130 others suffered minor injuries.

Rivers burst their banks in several parts of Japan and fishing boats were tossed up on land. A container ship was stranded after being swept onto a harbor wall but all 19 crew members escaped injury.

Some 80,000 people in Koriyama, a city 200 km (124 miles) north of Tokyo, were ordered to evacuate as a river neared the top of its banks, NHK said, but by afternoon water levels were starting to fall. Several hundred houses in western Japan were flooded.

“My grandchild lives over there. The house is fine, but the area is flooded, and they can’t get out,” one man told NHK.

Lan had weakened to a category 2 storm when it made landfall early on Monday, sideswiping Tokyo, after powering north for days as an intense category 4 storm, according to the Tropical Storm Risk monitoring site.

Lan is the Marshall islands word for “storm”.

By Monday afternoon the storm had been downgraded to a tropical depression and it was in the Pacific, east of the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

Around 350 flights were canceled and train services disrupted over a wide area of Japan, although most commuter trains were running smoothly in Tokyo.

Toyota Motor Corp canceled the first shift at all of its assembly plants but said it would operate the second shift as normal.

 

(Additional reporting by Junko Fujita and Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Michael Perry & Simon Cameron-Moore)

 

Villagers begin to mourn dead after deadly China landslide

Relatives of victims react at the site of a landslide in the village of Xinmo, Mao County, Sichuan Province, China June 26, 2017.

By Sue-Lin Wong

XINMO, China (Reuters) – Villagers in China visited what used to be their relatives’ homes on Monday to mourn loved ones lost when a landslide swept down a mountain, with little hope of finding anyone alive after more than 48 hours of fruitless searching.

At least 93 people are missing after the landslide engulfed Xinmo village in mountainous Sichuan province as dawn broke on Saturday. Ten people have been confirmed dead.

“Our house was somewhere around here but everything has been destroyed beyond recognition,” said a middle aged woman, one of a few residents who were away when disaster struck, after she pulled a green blanket she recognised out of the mud and rocks.

Rescue workers carry a victim at the site of a landslide that occurred in Xinmo Village, Mao County, Sichuan province, China, June 25, 2017.

Rescue workers carry a victim at the site of a landslide that occurred in Xinmo Village, Mao County, Sichuan province, China, June 25, 2017. China Daily via REUTERS

The government has sent some 3,000 rescuers, along with heavy digging equipment, and has promised to do all it can to look for survivors.

Heavy rain triggered the landslide, authorities have said.

Some villagers said they’ve always known landslides are a big danger but authorities never offered to help them move.

With danger of more landslides, authorities have been restricting access to the disaster zone, but hundreds of people were allowed back on Monday.

Mournful wails and firecracker explosions echoed through Xinmo’s steep valley as bereaved relatives returned, many clutching snacks and wrapped in plastic and bottles of wine as offerings for the dead.

Some people burned paper money and lit incense which, along with setting off fireworks, are traditional acts of mourning.

“Every single family has been impacted by the landslide, it’s horrible,” said Sun Danxian, from a neighbouring village who was walking through the site.

The government of Mao county, where the village is located, posted on Monday drone video footage of the area showing about dozen mechanical diggers shifting through a landscape of grey rocks.

‘LYING FOR THREE DAYS’

Earlier on Monday, about 100 villagers, unhappy with what they said was limited information, met government officials at a nearby primary school, insisting they had to get to Xinmo.

They also voiced fears about the possibility of rebuilding homes before winter and what would happened to orphans.

“These government officials have been lying to us for three days,” a middle aged man from Xinmo, with several missing relatives told Reuters. He declined to give his name.

“They told us we could go back yesterday morning but they kept delaying and delaying giving us all kinds of excuses. They told us a central government official was going to come to visit us. He showed up and didn’t even bother to speak to us.”

Another relative said the government should have moved them out of an area they knew was prone to landslides.

“There have been landslides before but no one has ever suggested we move. The government knows it’s dangerous to live in these kinds of villages and yet they do nothing,” said the elderly man, who also would not provide his name.

The official China Daily cited Xu Qiang, a disaster expert at the Ministry of Land and Resources, as saying large-scale relocations in the area were difficult.

“Many of the villagers have been living here for generations and have seen no major geological disasters,” Xu said. “This is their home and livelihood and it is very difficult to convince them to leave, specially when you only have a hypothesis and predictions.”

Sichuan province is also prone to earthquakes, including an 8.0 magnitude tremor in central Sichuan’s Wenchuan county in 2008 that killed nearly 70,000 people.

Mao county is next to Wenchuan. State media said the mountainside that collapsed onto the village had been weakened by the 2008 earthquake.

Most residents of the area are poor farmers of the Qiang ethnic minority and the area is the target of a poverty alleviation project, according to government officials.

(Writing by Ben Blanchard and Christian Shepherd; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

Search continues for missing after Colombia tourist boat accident

Rescuers wait at the dock after a tourist boat sank with 150 passengers onboard at the Guatape reservoir, Colombia, June 25, 2017

GUATAPE, Colombia (Reuters) – Rescue workers searched on Monday for 13 people believed to be missing after a tourist boat sank the previous day in a reservoir in north-central Colombia, killing seven.

The cause of the accident was still unclear, officials said. Use of the Penol-Guatape reservoir, a popular site for water-sports and tours, was restricted as the search continued.

The boat, El Almirante, was carrying about 150 passengers, officials said. Reports of the dead and missing have varied since the accident on Sunday afternoon. Authorities had initially said more than 170 people were onboard.

Divers look for people believed to be missing after a tourist boat sank on Sunday in the Penol-Guatape reservoir, in Guatape, Colombia June 26, 2017

Divers look for people believed to be missing after a tourist boat sank on Sunday in the Penol-Guatape reservoir, in Guatape, Colombia June 26, 2017. REUTERS/Fredy Builes

“We have seven dead and 13 disappeared,” Carlos Ivan Marquez, the head of the national disaster relief agency told journalists. Three people previously thought missing have contacted authorities, he added.

Officials initially reported nine people dead and 28 missing, but later said some survivors rescued by private boats were taken to different docks on the reservoir shore and so were not immediately accounted for.

Videos posted on social media showed motorboats coming to the aid of passengers on the upper decks as the boat rocked from side to side. Survivors told local television they heard a loud noise before the boat began to sink.

It is a long holiday weekend in the Andean country and the reservoir is a well-known destination for families.

Officials were interviewing the captain and investigating allegations by some passengers that they did not have life-jackets, Vice Transport Minister Alejandro Maya told journalists at the scene earlier on Monday.

President Juan Manuel Santos visited rescue crews at the reservoir, about an hour’s drive from the city of Medellin, on Sunday night.

(Reporting by Fredy Builes in Guatape and Julia Symmes Cobb and Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota; editing by Diane Craft)

Afghan families search morgues, hospitals after devastating truck bomb

Relatives of victims listen to hospital officials after a blast in Kabul.

By Mirwais Harooni

KABUL (Reuters) – It took nearly 24 hours for his Afghan family to discover Hamidullah’s broken body on the bottom shelf of a morgue at Kabul’s Wazir Akhbar Khan hospital.

Around him were placed the few personal belongings he had with him when he died.

“He was engaged and was about to get married,” his cousin Abdullah told Reuters, grief clouding his eyes as he stood in the barren morgue. “All of his and his family’s dreams remained unfinished.”

Twenty-year-old Hamidullah was on his way to his print shop in Afghanistan’s capital city early on Wednesday morning when he was killed by a massive truck bomb that exploded in the middle of a busy street, killing at least 80 people and wounding more than 450.

While the intended target of the bomb remains unknown, the explosion occurred near the gates of a heavily fortified area of the city that holds many foreign embassies and government ministries.

Many of the victims, however, were working class Afghans, people who had managed to eke out livelihoods during years of violence and economic malaise.

For Hamidullah’s family, the first indication something was be wrong was the sound of a powerful explosion, followed by an expanding cloud of smoke rising over the city.

Calls to his cellphone went unanswered, and a growing number of extended family members joined huge crowds at hospitals around the city, all seeking news of friends and family caught in the attack.

“We went to several hospitals to find him,” said Abdullah.

The hospital in Wazir Akhbar Khan was one of several inundated with the wounded, and later, the bodies.

“I have never experienced such a day in all my life,” said one morgue attendant who asked for anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly. “All the freezers were full, and the dead bodies lined the road to the morgue as well.”

As of Thursday morning, as Hamidullah’s family gathered in small groups under the trees outside the morgue to wait for his father’s arrival, there were still a dozen unidentified bodies at the hospital, officials said.

Among those, around half are unrecognizable, the attendant added. Due to a lack of space, bodies had to be laid out on the ground and 20 were sent to a nearby military hospital.

VICTIMS REMEMBER

Among the victims were employees of Afghan and international media, a major telecommunications company and a bank as well as police officers and security guards.

Kabul’s Emergency Hospital received at least 108 victims of Wednesday’s attack, said Sakhi Shafiq, a team leader there.

From their hospital beds, survivors described the scenes of horror they had lived through.

“I felt my face and body burning and I felt blood coming out of my face,” said Karim Jan, speaking with difficulty.

With chaos all around, he staggered several blocks to Emergency Hospital where he remains, heavily bandaged, with shrapnel scars dotting his face and limbs.

Baqer Zmarai was walking to his job at the state television station and had just passed the German Embassy, which was heavily damaged in the blast, when the bomb went off.

“I fell on the ground,” he said from his bed at Wazir Akhbar Khan hospital. “It was hard to see my surroundings. I could hear people yelling for help.”

Surrounded by dirt, smoke, mangled cars and shattered buildings, Zmarai struggled to stand on injured legs.

“I tried to escape but I could not walk.”

While some of the wounded were able to go home, many remain in hospitals and the search for lost loved ones continues.

“I do not know if my son is dead or alive. I have to see and find him,” said Besmillah, who stood outside the locked gates of Emergency Hospital on Thursday, pleading with the staff to let him enter.

“I went to every single hospital but could not find my son.”

(Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)