Hundreds flee homes as 4.4 magnitude quake strikes Indonesia

Rescue workers and volunteers clear an area of debris following yesterday's 4.4 magnitude quake in Kertosari Village, Banjarnegara, Central Java, Indonesia April 19, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Idhad Zakaria / via REUTERS

JAKARTA (Reuters) – A shallow earthquake brought down hundreds of poorly built buildings in Indonesia, forcing more than 2,000 people to flee their homes, rescue officials said on Thursday. The 4.4 magnitude quake hit the Banjarnegara district of Central Java late on Wednesday, killing two people and injuring more than 20.

“Victims were killed or injured by falling buildings,” the national rescue agency said in a statement. “People are being treated in hospital or have been evacuated to temporary shelters.”

Quakes are common in Indonesia, which straddles the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, a hot spot for seismic activity due to friction between tectonic plates.

(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Hundreds flee Australian bushfires that kill cattle, destroy homes

Smoke rises from a destroyed home after a bushfire swept through the town of Tathra, located on the south-east coast of New South Wales in Australia, March 19, 2018. AAP/Dean Lewins/via REUTERS

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian authorities urged people to remain alert on Monday as bushfires that have destroyed dozens of homes, killed cattle and forced hundreds of residents to flee continued to burn out of control in the southeast of the country.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported on Monday but the bushfires have caused extensive damage in rural areas of Victoria and New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s two most populous states. More than 100 houses were damaged or destroyed, authorities said.

“At this stage (there have been) no lives lost,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at a news conference in the small NSW coastal town of Tathra.

“It is just a great credit to the firefighters, to the volunteers, the emergency workers – all of the community has pulled together and provided such great support,” he said.

The fires, believed to have been sparked by lightning on Saturday, were fanned by dry, hot winds as temperatures reached 41 degrees Celsius (106 Fahrenheit) on Sunday.

Emergency officials said conditions should ease later on Monday but “watch and act” warnings remained in place for five locations.

A house thats has been destroyed by a bushfire can be seen near the town of Cobden, located south west of Melbourne in Australia, March 18, 2018. AAP/David Crosling/via REUTERS

A house thats has been destroyed by a bushfire can be seen near the town of Cobden, located south west of Melbourne in Australia, March 18, 2018. AAP/David Crosling/via REUTERS

The fire also set off an argument among Australia’s politicians on whether climate change was a contributing factor to the blazes.

“You can’t attribute any particular event, whether it’s a flood or fire or a drought …to climate change. We are the land of droughts and flooding rains, we’re the land of bushfires,” Turnbull said.

Authorities said some 69 houses were destroyed and a further 39 were damaged and 30 caravans or cabins were also wiped out in Tathra, where residents fled to the beach on Sunday to avoid the flames as flying embers quickly carried the firefront forward.

About 700 residents were evacuated to centers set up at the nearby town of Bega and several schools in affected areas were closed on Monday.

NSW Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers earlier told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that five of 22 fires had not yet been contained.

“There’s still a lot of fire around the landscape,” he said, warning that it would still be several days before they were extinguished.

About 280 firefighters were battling the blazes, while 22,000 homes were without power in the region after high winds brought down trees, Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said late on Sunday.

Bushfires are a common and deadly threat in Australia’s hot, dry summers, fueled by highly flammable eucalyptus trees.

In January, hundreds of holidaymakers had to be evacuated by boat from the beaches of the Royal National Park south of Sydney when they became trapped by bushfires.

The 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria killed 173 people and injured more than 400.

(Reporting by Jane Wardell and Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY; Additional reporting by Melanie Burton in MELBOURNE; Editing by Susan Fenton and Paul Tait)

Monsoon floods and landslides threaten 100,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

A woman walks through the Chakmakul camp for Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh, February 13, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew RC Marshall

By Clare Baldwin and Andrew R.C. Marshall

CHAKMAKUL REFUGEE CAMP, Bangladesh (Reuters) – The Rohingya refugees who live in shacks clinging to these steep, denuded hills in southern Bangladesh pray that the sandbags fortifying the slopes will survive the upcoming monsoon.

“They make it safer, but they won’t hold if the rain is really heavy,” said Mohammed Hares, 18. Cracks have already formed in the packed mud on which his shack is built.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since last August to escape a military crackdown in neighboring Myanmar. Most now live in flimsy, bamboo-and-plastic structures perched on what were once forested hills.

Bangladesh is lashed by typhoons, and the Rohingya camps are clustered in a part of the country that records the highest rainfall. Computer modeling by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) shows that more than 100,000 refugees will be threatened by landslides and floods in the coming monsoon.

The rains typically begin in April and peak in July, according to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department.

In Kutupalong-Balukhali, the biggest of the makeshift camps, up to a third of the land could be flooded, leaving more than 85,000 refugees homeless, according to the UNHCR. Another 23,000 refugees live on slopes at risk of landslide.

The UNHCR, International Organization for Migration (IOM) and World Food Programme are using bulldozers to level 123 acres in northern Kutupalong-Balukhali camp in an effort to make the area safer, said UNHCR spokeswoman Caroline Gluck.

IOM is putting debris-removal equipment and work crews throughout the camps, it said, and trying to improve roads and stabilize slopes. It is also setting up emergency diarrhoea treatment centers and providing search and rescue and first aid training.

Bangladesh Disaster Management Secretary Shah Kamal said the government was working with the UN to relocate 133,000 people living in high-risk areas. It is also launching a Rohingya-language radio station that will act as a natural disaster warning system, he said.

Bangladesh government officials have also previously told Reuters they are pushing ahead with a controversial plan to turn an uninhabited island in the Bay of Bengal into a temporary home for the Rohingya and move 100,000 refugees there ahead of the monsoon.

Flooding increases the risk of disease outbreaks. It could also threaten access to medical facilities, making them difficult to reach and restock, the modeling shows. Latrines, washrooms and tube wells may also be flooded.

The risk of landslides has been exacerbated by refugee families needing firewood to cook. Trees were cut down to make way for the refugees, who also dug up the roots for firewood, making the slopes even weaker and prone to collapse.

“This was a forest when I first arrived,” said Arafa Begum, 40, who lives with her three children in a shack on a barren, vertiginous slope in Chakmakul camp. She said she wanted to move before the monsoon but must await the instructions of the majhi, or block leader.

The majhi’s name is Jahid Hussain. “I don’t know what I’ll do when the rain comes,” he told Reuters. “It depends on Allah.”

 

(Reporting by Clare Baldwin and Andrew R.C. Marshall in CHAKMAKUL REFUGEE CAMP; Additional reporting by Ruma Paul in DHAKA; Editing by Alex Richardson)

‘Migrate or die’: Venezuelan migrants flood into Colombia despite crackdown

Venezuelans line the street at the border between Venezuela and Colombia, in Cucuta, Colombia February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

By Julia Symmes Cobb and Anggy Polanco

MAICAO/CUCUTA, Colombia (Reuters) – The desert wind whipping their faces, hundreds of Venezuelan migrants lugging heavy suitcases and overstuffed backpacks trudge along the road to the Colombian border town of Maicao beneath the blazing sun.

The broken line snakes back 8 miles (13 km) to the border crossing at Paraguachon, where more than a hundred Venezuelans wait in the heat outside the migration office.

Money changers sit at tables stacked with wads of Venezuelan currency, made nearly worthless by hyperinflation under President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government.

The remote outpost on the arid La Guajira peninsula on Colombia’s Caribbean coast marks a frontline in Latin America’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Venezuelans pray as they gather at a dining facility organised by Caritas and the Catholic church, in Cucuta, Colombia February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

Venezuelans pray as they gather at a dining facility organised by Caritas and the Catholic church, in Cucuta, Colombia February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

The Venezuelans arrive hungry, thirsty and tired, often unsure where they will spend the night, but relieved to have escaped the calamitous situation in their homeland.

They are among more than half a million Venezuelans who have fled to Colombia, many illegally, hoping to escape grinding poverty, rising violence and shortages of food and medicine in their once-prosperous, oil exporting nation.

“It’s migrate and give it a try or die of hunger there. Those are the only two options,” said Yeraldine Murillo, 27, who left her six-year-old son behind in the Venezuelan city of Maracaibo, some 56 miles (90 km) across the border.

“There, people eat from the trash. Here, people are happy just to eat,” said Murillo, who hopes to find work in Colombia’s capital Bogota and send for her son.

The exodus from Venezuela – on a scale echoing the departure of Myanmar’s Rohingya people to Bangladesh – is stirring alarm in Colombia. A weary migration official said as many as 2,000 Venezuelans enter Colombia legally through Paraguachon each day, up from around 1,200 late last year.

Under pressure from overcrowded frontier towns such as Maicao, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced a tightening of border controls this month, deploying 3,000 additional security personnel.

But the measures are unlikely to stem the flow of illegal migrants pouring across the 1,379-mile (2,219 km) frontier.

At Paraguachon, where a lack of effective border controls has long allowed smuggling to thrive, officials estimate 4,000 people cross illegally daily.

“We left houses, cars. We left everything: money in the bank,” said former electronics salesman Rudy Ferrer, 51, who sleeps outside a warehouse in Maicao. He estimates there are 1,000 Venezuelans sleeping on the town’s streets every night.

‘THE MADURO DIET’

Some 3 million Venezuelans – or a tenth of the population – have left Venezuelan since late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez started his Socialist revolution in 1999.

Despite four months of violent anti-government protests last year, Chavez’s hand-picked successor Maduro is expected to win a fresh six-year term at elections on April 22. The opposition, whose most popular leaders have been banned from running, is boycotting the vote.

Mechanic Luis Arellano and his children were among the lucky ones who found beds at a shelter in Maicao run by the Catholic diocese with help from the U.N. refugee agency. The 58-year-old said his children’s tears of hunger drove him to flee Venezuela.

“It was 8 p.m. and they were asking for lunch and dinner and I had nothing to give them,” he said, spooning rice into his 7-year-old daughter’s mouth.

Children from Venezuela eat a meal at a dining facility organised by Caritas and the Catholic church, in Cucuta, Colombia February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

Children from Venezuela eat a meal at a dining facility organised by Caritas and the Catholic church, in Cucuta, Colombia February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

“This isn’t the size they should be,” Arellano said, raising his children’s spindly arms.

Migrants told Reuters they were paying up to 400,000 bolivars for a kilo of rice in Venezuela. The official monthly minimum wage is 248,510 bolivares – around $8 at the official exchange rate, or $1.09 on the black market.

Food shortages, which many migrants jokingly refer to as the “Maduro diet”, have left people noticeably thinner than in photos taken years earlier for their identification cards.

The shelter – where bunk beds line the walls of the bedrooms – provides food and shelter for three days and, for those joining family already in Colombia, a bus ticket onwards.

It will soon have capacity for 140 people a night – a fraction of the daily arrivals.

Colombia is letting the migrants access public health care and send their children to state schools. Santos is asking for international help to foot the bill, which the government has said runs to tens of millions of dollars.

‘NO WORK’ FOR VENEZUELANS

At another shelter in the border city of Cucuta, some 250 miles (400 km) to the south, people regularly spend the night on cardboard outside, hoping places will free up.

The largest city along the frontier, Cucuta has borne the brunt of the arriving migrants. About 30,000 people cross the pedestrian bridge that connects the city with Venezuela on daily entry passes to shop for food.

Conditions are desperate for migrants like Jose Molina, a 48-year-old butcher unable to find work after leaving his wife and son in Venezuela’s northern Carabobo state four months ago.

People sit on a makeshift bed, on a street, where Venezuelan migrants gather to spend the night, in Maicao, Colombia February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

People sit on a makeshift bed, on a street, where Venezuelan migrants gather to spend the night, in Maicao, Colombia February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

“I feel so depressed,” said Molina, his face puffed and tired after sleeping outside a church. “I got sick from eating rotten potatoes but I was hungry so I had to eat them.”

Molina is so hopeless he has considered returning home.

“My wife says everything’s getting worse and it’s best to wait,” he said. “I don’t want to be a burden to them. They don’t have enough to eat themselves.”

While many feel a duty to welcome the migrants, in part because Venezuela accepted Colombian refugees during that country’s long civil war, others fear losing jobs to Venezuelans being paid under the table.

After locals held a small anti-Venezuelan protest last month, police evicted 200 migrants who were living on a sports field, deporting many of them.

Migrants are verbally abused by some Colombians who refuse them work when they hear their accents, said Flavio Gouguella, 28, from Carabobo.

“Are you a Veneco? Then no work,” he said, using a derogatory term for Venezuelans.

In Maicao, locals also worry about an increase in crime and support police efforts to clear parks and sidewalks.

They already have to cope with smuggled subsidized Venezuelan goods damaging local commerce, and have grown tired of job-seekers and lending their bathrooms to migrants.

Spooked by police raids, migrants in Maicao have abandoned the parks and bus stations where they had makeshift camps, opting to sleep outside shuttered shops. Female migrants who spoke to Reuters said were often solicited for sex.

Despairing of finding work, some entrepreneurial migrants turn the nearly-worthless bolivar currency into crafts, weaving handbags from the bills and selling them in Maicao’s park.

A man sells bags made out of Venezuelan banknotes, in Maicao, Colombia February 16, 2018. Picture taken February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

A man sells bags made out of Venezuelan banknotes, in Maicao, Colombia February 16, 2018. Picture taken February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

“This was made from 80,000 bolivars,” said 23-year-old Anthony Morillo, holding up a square purse featuring bills with the face of South America’s 19th century liberation hero Simon Bolivar. “It’s not worth half a bag of rice.”

($1 = 28,927.5000 bolivar)

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb in Maicao and Paraguachon and Anggy Polanco in Cucuta and La Parada; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Helen Murphy, Daniel Flynn and Daniel Wallis)

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)

Record-shattering cold reaches into Florida

A man walks in falling snow at Times Square as a cold weather front hits the region, in Manhattan, New York, U.S., December 30, 2017.

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) – Record-shattering arctic cold reached as far south as Florida on Monday with freeze warnings in place from Texas to the Atlantic Coast and the Northeastern United States facing another cold wave at the end of the week, forecasters said.

Temperatures ranged from 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (11 to 17 degrees Celsius) below normal across the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, with only southern Florida untouched by the arctic blast.

“That degree of cold will be with us until tomorrow,” said Brian Hurley, a National Weather Service meteorologist at College Park, Maryland. “Tuesday morning, we’re looking at temperatures with very high probability of record lows.”

Along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, the temperature in the city of Mobile could hit a low of 16 F (minus 9 C) overnight. Stiff breezes were expected to create dangerously cold wind chills across southeastern Georgia and most of northeastern Florida, the weather service said.

Michael Kimberl, co-founder of Sean’s Outpost, an encampment for homeless people in Pensacola, Florida, said he was handing out propane fuel and extra blankets to residents.

“Our community is very unequipped for weather of this type,” he said by phone. Homeless shelters were also making special accommodations, including one site available for women and children, he said.

The mass of frigid air pumped south by a dip in the jet stream sent temperatures plunging across the U.S. heartland. Omaha, Nebraska, posted a low of minus 20 F (minus 29 C), breaking a 130-year-old record, and Aberdeen, South Dakota, shattered a record set in 1919 with a temperature of minus 32 F (minus 36 C).

The cold will be unrelenting across the Middle Atlantic and Northeastern United States, with up to two dozen low-temperature records expected in those regions over the next day or two, Hurley said.

Although the cold should ease across most of the United States after Tuesday, the northeastern quarter of the country will see a repeat of the frigid temperatures from Thursday to Friday as another arctic blast hits the area.

The private AccuWeather forecaster said the cold snap could combine with a storm brewing off the Bahamas to bring snow and high winds to much of the Eastern Seaboard as it heads north on Wednesday and Thursday.

The only part of the United States spared the deep freeze is the Southwest, with above-normal temperatures and dry weather expected to linger there, the weather service said.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

New Jersey woman raises $325,000 for homeless Samaritan

New Jersey woman raises $325,000 for homeless Samaritan

(Reuters) – A homeless man who spent his last $20 on a New Jersey woman whose car ran out of gas has received more than $325,000 in charitable pledges after she started a fund-raising drive to reward him for his generosity.

Kate McClure, 27, launched a page on GoFundMe.com that had raised $325,420 for the man, Johnny Bobbitt Jr., as of Friday afternoon. The number was rising steadily throughout the day.

Bobbitt describes himself as a 34-year-old former U.S. Marine and paramedic who has been homeless for about a year, according to NJ.com, the website whose story on the encounter helped spark the fundraising interest.

McClure said on the GoFundMe website she was driving on Interstate 95 one night last month when she ran out of gas. She then met Bobbitt, who had been sitting on the side of the road with a panhandling sign.

He told her go back to her car and lock her doors, McClure said.

“A few minutes later, he comes back with a red gas can. Using his last 20 dollars to make sure I could get home safe,” McClure said on GoFundMe.com.

Bobbitt told BBC Radio on Friday that he considered the side of the road an unsafe place for anyone, especially for a woman by herself.

“She just seemed like she needed help,” Bobbitt said. “The situation I’m in, people help me every day. When I have the chance to help someone else, it’s the right thing to do.”

After the highway incident, McClure went back periodically to check on Bobbitt, bringing warm clothes and some cash. Eventually she and her husband decided to start a formal effort to raise money for rent, a car and other expenses until he can find a job.

The fund has grown by thousands of dollars in recent days as widespread media coverage combined with goodwill surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday appeared to have unleashed a groundswell.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Tom Brown)

Iran ends quake rescue operations, hungry survivors battle cold

Iran ends quake rescue operations, hungry survivors battle cold

By Parisa Hafezi

ANKARA (Reuters) – Iranian officials said there was little chance of finding more survivors from the earthquake that shook parts of western Iran on Sunday, killing at least 450 people, and rescue operations had now been called off, state television said on Tuesday.

Survivors, many left homeless by the 7.3 magnitude earthquake that struck villages and towns in a mountainous area bordering Iraq, battled overnight temperatures just above freezing and faced another bleak day on Tuesday in need of food and water.

President Hassan Rouhani arrived in the morning in the stricken area in Kermanshah province and promised that the government would “use all its power to resolve the problems in the shortest time”.

At least 14 provinces in Iran were affected by the quake which destroyed two whole villages, damaged 30,000 houses and left thousands of people injured.

Thousands of people huddled in makeshift camps while many others chose to spend a second night in the open, despite low temperatures, because they feared more tremors after some 193 aftershocks, state television said.

A homeless young woman in Sarpol-e Zahab, one of the hardest-hit towns, told state TV that her family was exposed to the night cold because of lack of tents.

“We need help. We need everything. The authorities should speed up their help,” she said.

Television showed rescue workers combing through the rubble of dozens of villages immediately after the quake. But Iranian officials said chances of finding any more survivors were remote.

“The rescue operations in Kermanshah province have ended,” Pir-Hossein Kolivand, head of Iran’s Emergency Medical Services, said.

Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, offered his condolences on Monday and called on government agencies to do all they could to help.

Iranian army, the elite Revolutionary Guards and its affiliated Basij militia forces were dispatched to affected areas on Sunday night.

A woman reacts next to a dead body following an earthquake in Sarpol-e Zahab county in Kermanshah, Iran. Tasnim News Agency/Handout via REUTERS

A woman reacts next to a dead body following an earthquake in Sarpol-e Zahab county in Kermanshah, Iran. Tasnim News Agency/Handout via REUTERS

BITTER COLD

Hospitals in nearby provinces took in many of the injured, state television said, airing footage of survivors waiting to be treated. Hundreds of critically injured were dispatched to hospitals in Tehran.

Iran’s Red Crescent said emergency shelter had been provided for thousands of homeless people, but a lack of water and electricity as well as blocked roads in some areas hindered aid supply efforts.

“People in some villages are still in dire need of food, water and shelter,” governor of Qasr-e Shirin Faramarz Akbari said.

The mayor of Ezgeleh, a city in Kermanshah, said 80 percent of their buildings had collapsed and they desperately needed tents with elderly people and babies as young as one-year-old sleeping in the cold for two straight nights.

In an interview with state television Nazar Barani asked people to send them fuel, milk, water and food as emergency services were too slow and providing limited provisions.

A local man told ISNA news agency that “people are hungry and thirsty. There is no electricity. Last night I cried when I saw children with no food or shelter.”

More than 30,000 houses in the area were damaged and at least two villages were completely destroyed, Iranian authorities said.

Houses in Iranian villages are often made of concrete blocks or mudbrick that can crumble and collapse in a strong quake. Some people are angry that among the collapsed buildings were houses that the government has built in recent years under its affordable housing program.

Photographs posted on Iranian news websites showed rescue workers digging people out of collapsed buildings, cars smashed beneath rubble and rescue dogs trying to find signs of life under the twisted remains of collapsed buildings.

“More people will die because of cold. My family lives in a village near Sarpol-e Zahab. I cannot even go there. I don’t know whether they are dead or alive,” Rojan Meshkat, 38, in the Kurdish city of Sanandaj told Reuters by telephone.

Iran is crisscrossed by major fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 that reduced the historic southeastern city of Bam to dust and killed some 31,000 people.

The quake, centered in Penjwin in Iraq’s Sulaimaniyah province in the Kurdistan region, killed at least six people in Iraq and injured more than 68. In northern Iraq’s Kurdish districts, seven were killed and 325 wounded.

A man gestures inside a damaged building following an earthquake in Sarpol-e Zahab county in Kermanshah, Iran. REUTERS/Tasnim News Agency

A man gestures inside a damaged building following an earthquake in Sarpol-e Zahab county in Kermanshah, Iran. REUTERS/Tasnim News Agency

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London, Editing and Nick Macfie and Richard Balmforth)

Trailers could house those displaced by fires in California wine country

Trailers could house those displaced by fires in California wine country

By Dan Whitcomb and Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Residents of Northern California’s wine country left homeless by the state’s deadliest-ever wildfires could be temporarily housed in federal government trailers, officials said on Wednesday, as the death toll from the blazes rose to 42.

Since erupting on Oct. 8 and 9, the blazes have blackened more than 245,000 acres, (86,200 hectares) and destroyed an estimated 4,600 homes along with wineries and commercial buildings.

Thousands of survivors, forced to flee the flames with little warning, remain displaced. Many are returning to find nothing left, forcing them to seek housing in emergency shelters or with family and friends.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has called trailers a solution of last resort for housing the displaced.

But local officials said they had few other options because of a lack of hotels and rental housing, especially around Santa Rosa – the urban hub of the region’s wine country – which had nearly 5 percent of its homes destroyed.

“We have talked to FEMA about trailers, we’re not sure what the availability is, how soon we could get them here, but we are looking at every option,” Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey told Reuters by phone.

“I don’t relish having people living in FEMA trailers, but it’s a hell of a lot better than sleeping out under the stars,” he said.

FEMA deployed trailers to house thousands of people displaced by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina along the U.S. Gulf Coast, triggering lawsuits by people who contended they were exposed to formaldehyde in the government-issued housing.

A judge in 2012 approved a settlement requiring builders of the trailers to pay a settlement of nearly $40 million.

FEMA’s latest trailers, which it calls manufactured or temporary housing units, have new safety features and are built to high standards, the agency said in a blog post last year.

The agency is only at the beginning stage of determining which options to employ, in consultation with local officials, to house people displaced by the fires, FEMA spokesman Victor Inge said by phone.

“A temporary housing unit is an absolute last resort, they’re expensive and they take a long time to get set up,” Inge said.

‘PROBABLY GOING TO NEED TRAILERS’

Officials with Sonoma County, which includes Santa Rosa, are considering sites with built-in utilities, such as running water and electricity, for mobile-home units, said Margaret Van Vliet, executive director of the Sonoma County Community Development Commission.

“We know we’re probably going to need FEMA trailers,” she said.

Firefighters on Wednesday were still battling the blazes, the deadliest in state history, as search-and-rescue teams picked through burned-out neighborhoods.

Law enforcement officials said the body of the 42nd confirmed victim was found late on Tuesday in the Fountain Grove section of Santa Rosa.

About 60 people remain missing or unaccounted for in Sonoma and Napa counties. Most of the more than 2,000 people listed in missing-persons reports have turned up safe, including evacuees who failed to alert authorities after fleeing their homes.

Fire officials said that while 13 major blazes were still burning as of Wednesday, the flames were largely contained and no longer considered a threat to homes or communities.

“We have stopped the forward progress and movement of all these fires, we have line around them,” Brett Gouvea, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection deputy chief, told reporters at an afternoon news conference. A Santa Rosa couple whose house was destroyed sued Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) on Tuesday, alleging the utility failed to take preventative measures in the face of dangerous drought conditions.

Representatives for PG&E said that the utility was focused on supporting firefighting efforts and restoring power

About 30 vintners sustained fire damage to wine-making facilities, vineyards, tasting rooms or other assets, according to the Napa Valley Vintners industry group

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Jim Christie in San Francisco and Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney)

Most schools in Mexico City still closed after earthquake

A girl hugs a Mexican marine officer as she offers hugs to people near the site of a collapsed building after an earthquake, in Mexico City.

By Lizbeth Diaz and Ana Isabel Martinez

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Most schools in Mexico City remained closed on Monday after last week’s deadly earthquake, but children outside the capital were set to return to their classrooms even though aftershocks are still jolting the country.

Search operations in Mexico City were narrowed to five buildings destroyed last Tuesday by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that killed at least 320 people, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera told local broadcaster Televisa on Monday.

“These are the places where rescue efforts continue,” said Mancera, ticking off locations in central and southern portions of the metropolis.

The quake rendered thousands of people homeless, with many of them living in tents in the streets or emergency shelters, but there were signs the 20 million people who live in Mexico City’s greater metropolitan area were gradually resuming their routines. (Graphics on ‘Earthquake strikes Mexico’ –

“Our neighborhood is in mourning,” said Deborah Levy, 44, from the trendy Condesa district that was among the worst hit by the quake. “Some neighbors and friends got together (Sunday). We went to eat to cheer ourselves up, looking for a little normality.”

Members of rescue teams search for survivors, in the rubble of a collapsed building, after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico September 25, 2017.

Members of rescue teams search for survivors, in the rubble of a collapsed building, after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Some of the most affected neighborhoods, those built on top of a soft ancient lake bed, still had entire blocks cordoned off.

More than 44,000 schools in six states were due to reopen on Monday, but only 103 in Mexico City, or barely 1 percent of its schools, were set to resume classes after they were certified as structurally safe.

Officials said they did not want to impede relief efforts, so more than 4,000 public schools and nearly as many private schools in the capital will remain closed for now.

The National Autonomous University of Mexico, with 350,000 students at campuses in and around Mexico City, resumed classes on Monday.

Of 6,000 damaged buildings, some 1,500 have yet to be inspected, said Horacio Urbano, president of Centro Urbano, a think tank specializing in urban issues and real estate.

Ten percent of the damaged buildings were constructed after 1990, by which time strict building codes had been enacted in the wake of the 1985 earthquake that killed some 10,000 people.

 

SEARCH FOR SURVIVORS

Search operations, using advanced audio equipment to detect signs of life beneath tonnes of rubble, continued at a few buildings with help from teams from as far afield as Israel and Japan.

At a school in southern Mexico City where 19 children and six adults had previously been reported killed, officials recovered another body on Sunday, that of an adult women.

The search for survivors continued in a ruined office building in the Roma neighborhood and in a five-story apartment building in historic Tlalpan.

Authorities called off efforts in the upper-middle class Lindavista zone after pulling 10 bodies from the rubble over several days, and work at the Tlalpan building was briefly halted on Saturday by a magnitude 6.2 aftershock.

Another 5.7 aftershock struck on Sunday off Mexico’s west coast, jolting the southwestern part of the country, and seismologists predicted more tremors to come.

While aid and volunteer workers have flooded into the accessible districts of Mexico City, people in more remote neighborhoods and surrounding states have received less attention.

Mexican and international rescue teams remove a painting as they search for survivors in a collapsed building after an earthquake, at Roma neighborhood in Mexico City.

Mexican and international rescue teams remove a painting as they search for survivors in a collapsed building after an earthquake, at Roma neighborhood in Mexico City. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Miguel Angel Luna, a 40-year old architect, joined a caravan of civilians that headed out late last week to help isolated communities scattered around the base of the Popocatepetl volcano, located about 50 miles (80 km) southeast of the Mexican capital.

Around 40 percent of the adobe homes he saw in poor villages had been completely destroyed and some 80 percent were heavily damaged, Luna said.

“We’re talking about very poor communities,” Luna said. “They don’t have tools, they don’t have materials, they don’t have money to rebuild.”

 

(Additional reporting by Michael O’Boyle, Veronica Gomez and David Alire Garcia; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)