Greek PM visits wildfire-stricken town after criticism

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras speaks with a firefighter officer as he visits the village of Mati, following a wildfire near Athens, Greece, July 30, 2018. Greek Prime Minister's Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

By Costas Pitas and Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met survivors of a wildfire that killed at least 91 people during his first visit to the town of Mati on Monday, after facing criticism for the government’s response to the blaze.

Fires began a week ago in the coastal resort, which is 30 km (17 miles) east of Athens, and Tsipras has been attacked by opposition parties for the government’s handling of the disaster, which also left dozens injured.

Tsipras has accepted full political responsibility and pledged a series of changes, including a crackdown on illegal and haphazard construction that is thought to have worsened the blaze.

FILE PHOTO: A burnt house is seen following a wildfire in the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 28, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A burnt house is seen following a wildfire in the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 28, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas/File Photo

He spent around an hour in the area and met locals, firefighters and police officers, his office said in a statement.

“Today I visited the place of tragedy,” Tsipras tweeted.

“(I have) untold grief but also immense respect for those who fought an uneven battle with the flames,” he said.

A total of 25 people are still missing and 28 bodies have yet to be identified, the fire brigade said on Sunday.

Tsipras’ visit comes a week after the disaster and aides said that he had been busy coordinating the response from Athens. His coalition partner went to Mati on Thursday and was shouted at by survivors.

As rescue crews still hunt for those unaccounted for, residents were trying to salvage what they can from the disaster.

“I can’t believe that it took a lifetime to build this and within 10 minutes nothing was left,” 49-year old Konstantinos Gkikas told Reuters. “It’s unbelievable.”

Out of the nearly 2,600 buildings inspected in fire-stricken areas so far, half are intact, 25 percent need to be demolished and the rest can be repaired, the infrastructure ministry said on Monday.

A Greek citizen filed a lawsuit on Monday against the government, the municipal and regional authorities and anybody else found to be involved in the disaster.

Greeks were expected to gather outside parliament to light candles in memory of those who lost their lives later on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and Reuters Television; Writing by Costas Pitas; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Greek inferno kills at least 80, many missing

An electricity pole stands among burnt trees following a wildfire in Neos Voutzas, near Athens, Greece, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

By George Georgiopoulos and Michele Kambas

ATHENS (Reuters) – The death toll from a fire which ripped through a Greek coastal town stood at 80 on Wednesday, with dozens of people unaccounted for as forensic experts tried to identify victims who were burned alive.

With most of the corpses badly charred, identification of the dead will be challenging, experts said, meaning no fast closure in sight for suffering relatives.

Hundreds of people were trapped in the eastern resort of Mati on Monday night as flames whipped around them. Many jumped into the sea to survive, but others died from suffocation either in their cars or trapped on the edge of steep cliffs.

A house burns as a wildfire rages at the village of Mati, near Athens. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

A house burns as a wildfire rages at the village of Mati, near Athens.
REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

The Greek fire brigade said the death of a survivor in hospital had brought the toll up to 80. The service was also receiving dozens of calls reporting missing persons, but it was unclear if some of them were among those found dead, a spokesperson said.

With many burned beyond recognition, Greek coroners began the grim task of trying to identify the victims of the wildfires near Athens, having to rely on DNA or dental records as angst over missing persons mounted among relatives.

“Work has started on identifying the victims of the wildfires but the majority of the bodies are totally charred,” Grigoris Leon, head of the Hellenic Society of Forensic Medicine, told Reuters.

The post-mortems and identification procedures are taking place at a morgue at Shisto, west of Athens. Leon said this will involve teamwork by coroners, forensic dentistry experts from the Athens University’s Dental School, and the Greek police’s forensic service.

Post-mortems to determine the cause of death are mandatory by Greek law and the last stage after the conclusion of identification procedures.

Burnt houses are seen following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Burnt houses are seen following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Rescue teams combed through the area and the sea on Wednesday, trying to locate anything which could offer clarity on the missing, who are thought to number about 40.

“It was a really terrible situation here,” said Finnish tourist Jaakob Makinen. “We had to run away from the hotel, we ran through the beach, along the beach and then we were caught by fire, so kind of surrounded, we had to go into the water,” he told Reuters Television.

He and others spent several hours in the water.

It was unclear what caused the fire, which spread rapidly through Mati, a maze of narrow streets and dense forest. But some suggested that the sheer force of winds, thick pine, fire and panic was a deadly combination making even the most well-executed evacuation plan futile.

“You can’t leave. My house was up in flames in two minutes,” Elias Psinakis, the Mayor of Marathon, told Greece’s SKAI TV. “With eight Beaufort (wind) and pine you don’t even have time.”

“Armageddon,” wrote the daily newspaper Ethnos on its front page, a reference to the Biblical location prophesizing the end of times. It carried a photo of a burned Greek flag hanging among the branches of a charred tree.

A man walks among burnt cars following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

A man walks among burnt cars following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Fires are common in Greece in the summer months. However, one outspoken cleric had at least one theory of what caused it.

In a vitriolic post, Bishop Ambrosios of Kalavryta said it was the wrath of God because Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is a stated atheist. It drew a sharp response from the Church, which distanced itself from the Bishop’s remarks.

Tsipras declared three days of national mourning.

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Alkis Konstantinidis and Vassilis Triantafyllou, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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)

Wildfires kill at least 74 near Athens, families embrace as flames close in

A woman reacts as she tries to find her dog, following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

By Vassilis Triandafyllou and Alkis Konstantinidis

MATI, Greece (Reuters) – Wildfires sweeping through a Greek resort town killed at least 74 people, officials said, including families with children found clasped in a last embrace as they tried to flee the flames.

The inferno was by far Greece’s worst since fires devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens. It broke out in Mati, east of Athens, late Monday afternoon and was still burning in some areas on Tuesday.

“Greece is going through an unspeakable tragedy,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said as he appeared on television to declare three days of national mourning.

Firefighters and soldiers fall back as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

Firefighters and soldiers fall back as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

Emergency crews found one group of 26 victims, some of them youngsters, lying close together near the top of a cliff overlooking a beach.

“They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn’t make it in time. Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced,” Nikos Economopoulos, the head of Greece’s Red Cross, told Skai TV.

The strong smell of charred buildings and trees lingered in the air in parts of Mati on Tuesday, where white smoke rose from smoldering fires.

Residents wandered the streets, some searching for their burned-out cars, others for their pets. The eerie silence was punctured by fire-fighting helicopters and the chatter of rescue crews.

A Reuters photographer saw at least four dead people on a narrow road clogged with cars heading to a beach.

“Residents and visitors in the area did not escape in time even though they were a few meters from the sea or in their homes,” fire brigade spokeswoman Stavroula Maliri said.

Coastguard vessels and other boats rescued almost 700 people who had managed to get to the shoreline and pulled another 19 survivors and six dead bodies from the sea, the coastguard said.

In total, at least 60 people were killed and the death toll was expected to rise, Evangelos Bournous, mayor of nearby Rafina-Pikermi, said.

It was unclear how many people remained unaccounted for as coastguard vessels combed beaches to find any remaining survivors, with military hospitals on full alert, the government’s spokesman said.

One of the youngest victims was thought to be a six-month-old baby who died of smoke inhalation, officials said. Of the at least 94 people injured, 11 were in intensive care, and 23 were children, they added.

A wildfire rages in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

A wildfire rages in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

“KILLER FIRE”

Mati, 29 km (18 miles) east of the capital, is a popular spot for Greek holiday-makers, particularly pensioners and children at camps. Poland said two of its citizens, a mother and her son, were among the victims.

Greece’s fire brigade said the intensity and spread of the wildfire at Mati had slowed on Tuesday as winds died down, but it was still not fully under control.

The service urged residents to report missing relatives and friends. Some took to Twitter and Facebook, posting photographs of young children and elderly couples they hoped to locate.

Newspapers printed banner headlines including “Killer Fire” and “Hell”.

Greece issued an urgent appeal for help to tackle fires that raged out of control in several places across the country, destroying homes and disrupting major transport links.

Cyprus and Spain offered assistance after Greece said it needed air and land assets from European Union partners.

“Our thoughts go to Greece and the victims of the terrible fires,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in tweets published in French and Greek. Forest fires are also raging in Sweden.

Authorities said they would use an unmanned drone from the United States to monitor and track any suspicious activity.

Tsipras and Greek officials have expressed misgivings at the fact that several major fires broke out at the same time.

Wildfires are not uncommon in Greece, and a relatively dry winter helped create the current tinder-box conditions. It was not immediately clear what ignited the fires.

A hillside of homes was gutted by flames east of Athens. A mayor said he saw at least 100 homes and 200 vehicles burning.

On Monday, Greek authorities urged residents of a coastal region west of Athens to abandon their homes as another wildfire burned ferociously, closing one of Greece’s busiest motorways, halting trains and sending plumes of smoke over the capital.

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Michele Kambas, George Georgiopoulos and Costas Baltas in Athens and Agnieszka Barteczko in Warsaw; Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Rescuers race to find survivors after Japan floods kill at least 114

Rescue workers look for missing people in a house damaged by heavy rain in Kumano town, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo July 9, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Issei Kato

KURASHIKI, Japan (Reuters) – Rescuers in Japan dug through mud and rubble on Monday, racing to find survivors after torrential rain unleashed floods and landslides that killed at least 114 people, with dozens missing.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe canceled an overseas trip to deal with Japan’s worst flood disaster since 1983, with several million people forced from their homes.

Officials said the overall economic impact was not clear.

Rain tapered off across the western region on Monday to reveal blue skies and a scorching sun that pushed temperatures well above 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit), fuelling fears of heat-stroke in areas cut off from power or water.

A helicopter flies over Mabi town which was flooded by the heavy rain in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo July 9, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

A helicopter flies over Mabi town which was flooded by the heavy rain in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo July 9, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

“We cannot take baths, the toilet doesn’t work and our food stockpile is running low,” said Yumeko Matsui, whose home in the city of Mihara, in Hiroshima prefecture, has been without water since Saturday.

“Bottled water and bottled tea are all gone from convenience stores and other shops,” the 23-year-old nursery school worker said at an emergency water supply station.

Some 11,200 households had no electricity, power companies said on Monday, while hundreds of thousands had no water.

The death toll reached at least 114, NHK public television said, with 61 people missing.

Though the persistent rain had ended, officials warned of sudden showers and thunderstorms as well as of more landslides on steep mountainsides saturated over the weekend.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Prime Minister Abe had canceled his trip to Belgium, France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt because of the disaster. He had been due to leave on Wednesday.

Industry operations have also been hit, with Mazda Motor Corp saying it was forced to close its head office in Hiroshima on Monday.

The automaker, which suspended operations at several plants last week, said the halt would continue at two plants until Tuesday because it could not receive components, although both units were undamaged.

Daihatsu, which suspended production on Friday at up to four plants, said they would run the second evening shift on Monday.

Electronics maker Panasonic said operations at one plant remained suspended after the first floor was flooded.

A submerged Toyota Motor's car is seen in a flooded area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

A submerged Toyota Motor’s car is seen in a flooded area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

GRIM RECOVERY

Refineries and oil terminals were not affected but blockages in roads leading to one Showa Shell oil terminal in Hiroshima caused gas and diesel shortages nearby.

Shares in some companies fell but losses were modest, with Mazda even gaining as investors bet damage was limited.

“If the rainfall affects supply chains, there will be selling of the affected stocks,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

“Otherwise, the impact will be limited.”

Elsewhere, people soldiered on with a grim recovery.

The floodwaters slowly receded in Kurashiki city’s Mabi district, one of the hardest hit areas, leaving a thick coat of brown mud and cars turned over or half-submerged, as residents returned to tackle the mess.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this is my life, and I’ve lived for more than 70 years,” said Hitoko Asano, 71.

“The washing machine, refrigerator, microwave, toaster, PC – they’re all destroyed,” she said as she cleaned her two-story house.

“Clothes in the drawers were all damaged by muddy water, we won’t even bother to wash them. I can’t help wondering how much it’ll cost to repair this.”

At one landslide in Hiroshima, shattered piles of lumber marked the sites of former homes, television images showed. Other homes had been tossed upside down.

Although evacuation orders were scaled sharply back from the weekend, some 1.7 million people still face orders or advice to keep away from homes, fire and disaster officials said.

The economic impact was being assessed.

“I’m worried there could be a significant impact on production, consumption and tourism,” Toshiro Miyashita, Bank of Japan’s Fukuoka branch manager, who oversees Kyushu region, told a news conference.

Japan monitors weather conditions and issues warnings early, but its dense population means every bit of usable land is built on in the mostly mountainous country, leaving it prone to disasters.

(Additional reporting by Elaine Lies, Shinichi Saoshiro, Naomi Tajitsu, Ayai Tomisawa, Linda Sieg, Osamu Tsukimori, Leika Kihara and Tetsushi Kajimoto; Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

Guatemala ends victim searches at volcano where 110 died

Eva Ascon, is embraced by a family member as rescue workers search for her rest of her family at the affected by the Fuego volcano at San Miguel Los Lotes in Escuintla, Guatemala June 15, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

By Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Guatemala on Sunday ended its victim search efforts in the zone that suffered most deaths and injuries from the Fuego volcano eruption, its disaster agency said.

At least 110 people died and 197 are still missing after violent eruptions that began two weeks ago, according to disaster agency CONRED.

Eva Ascon, looks on next to rescue workers as they search for her rest of her family at the affected by the Fuego volcano at San Miguel Los Lotes in Escuintla Guatemala June 15, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Eva Ascon, looks on next to rescue workers as they search for her rest of her family at the affected by the Fuego volcano at San Miguel Los Lotes in Escuintla Guatemala June 15, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

“The search efforts are permanently suspended in the towns San Miguel Los Lotes and El Rodeo in the Escuintla municipality… the zone is uninhabitable and high risk,” CONRED said in a statement on Sunday.

The Fuego volcano, whose name means “Fire” in Spanish, is emitting four or five minor explosions daily and shooting columns of ash up to 15,420 feet (4,700 meters) above sea level, CONRED said.

Escuintla is operating 12 shelters for nearly 2,800 people displaced from homes that were swallowed by ash and dirt, while more than 770 people are staying in shelters in nearby areas.

Some survivors lost nearly all members of extended families after the volcano sent fast-moving currents of dust, lava and gas down its slopes in its greatest eruption in four decades.

(Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; editing by Diane Craft)

Rescuers tirelessly search for 200 missing near Guatemala volcano

Workers remove ashes from a road at an area affected by the eruption of the Fuego volcano at El Rodeo in Escuintla, Guatemala June 6, 2018. REUTERS/Fabricio Alonzo

By Sofia Menchu

SAN MIGUEL LOS LOTES, Guatemala (Reuters) – Rescuers scoured a lava and ash ravaged landscape in Guatemala for a third straight day on Wednesday in search of survivors and victims of Fuego volcano’s calamitous eruption, which has left an estimated 85 people dead and some 200 missing.

Volcan de Fuego, which means “Volcano of Fire,” exploded violently on Sunday, shooting thick plumes of ash miles into the sky that rained down on residents and sending superheated pyroclastic and lava flows barreling through nearby towns.

A thick layer of still smoldering ash and volcanic rock blanketed the tiny hamlet of San Miguel Los Lotes, with only the roofs of some homes sticking out.

Guatemala’s seismological, volcanic and meteorological institute Insivumeh heightened its warnings after the volcano erupted again on Tuesday, forcing evacuations and sending rescue workers scrambling for cover.

But by Wednesday morning, rescuer workers were back at it with pickaxes, metal rods and flashlights in hand, risking their own lives in search of victims or a miracle survivor. Bulldozers stood by to help.

“We can only work in places where we can stand on the roofs of houses … because the ash is very hot. There are places where you stick the pickaxe or rod in and we see a lot of smoke coming out and fire and it’s impossible to keep digging because we could die,” said 25-year-old rescuer Diego Lorenzana.

Elsewhere, rescuers plunged metal rods into the quickly hardening ash that sat atop what was previously a roadway in a desperate search for trapped vehicles, a video by local TV station Televisiete showed.

The extent of the devastation was widespread.

Cecilio Chacaj, a spokesman for the municipal firefighters department, said the bodies of another nine victims have been recovered on Wednesday.

An elderly man, who was featured in a video shortly after the eruption that showed him in a state of shock, caked from head to toe in ash and mud, died from the severe burns he suffered.

That brings to 85 the number of dead.

Guatemala’s national disaster management agency, CONRED, said 1.7 million people have been affected by the volcanic eruption, Fuego volcano’s biggest in four decades, and over 12,000 have been evacuated.

Volunteers were also distributing humanitarian aid, including clean drinking water, to victims.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said they have released more than 250,000 Swiss francs ($253,446) from its global emergency fund to support frontline emergency efforts.

These funds will help “Guatemala Red Cross support 3,000 of the most vulnerable survivors for three months,” they added.

The 3,763-meter (12,346-feet) Fuego Volcano is one of several active volcanoes among 34 in the Central American country. It lies near the colonial city of Antigua, a UNESCO world heritage site that has survived several major eruptions.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Guatemala warns of greater activity after volcano explodes again

Policemen inspect at an area affected by the eruption of the Fuego volcano in the community of San Miguel Los Lotes in Escuintla, June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Guatemalan authorities warned that the Fuego volcano was showing signs of greater activity on Tuesday night as the death toll from a devastating eruption at the weekend climbed to 75 and nearly 200 people remained missing.

Displaced people walk along a road from an area affected by the eruption of Fuego volcano in Escuintla, Guatemala June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

Displaced people walk along a road from an area affected by the eruption of Fuego volcano in Escuintla, Guatemala June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

The seismological, volcanic and meteorological institute Insivumeh heightened its warnings after the volcano erupted again earlier on Tuesday, forcing evacuations and sending rescue workers scrambling for cover.

The peak had its most devastating eruption in more than four decades on Sunday, showering ash on a wide area and sending lava flows through nearby towns.

The national disaster agency, CONRED, said 192 people remained missing after the disaster and the forensic agency, Inacif, raised the death toll to at least 75, up from 72.

“The conditions are extremely critical at this moment,” Insivumeh Director Eddy Sánchez told reporters.

Volcan de Fuego, which means “Volcano of Fire” in Spanish, is one of several active volcanoes among 34 in the Central American country. It lies near the colonial city of Antigua, a UNESCO world heritage site that has survived several major eruptions.

A soldier walks at an area affected by the eruption of the Fuego volcano in the community of San Miguel Los Lotes in Escuintla, June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

A soldier walks at an area affected by the eruption of the Fuego volcano in the community of San Miguel Los Lotes in Escuintla, June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

The latest activity has been mostly on the far side of the volcano, facing the Pacific coast.

The eruption on Sunday sent columns of ash and smoke 6.2 miles (10 km) into the sky, dusting several regions with ash. Thousands of people have been evacuated, CONRED said.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Dave Graham and Julia Love; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Sandra Maler and Paul Tait)

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)

Earthquake-hit Taiwan city still on edge as rescuers hunt survivors

A rescuer speaks on the radio as he searches for survivors at collapsed building after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 8, 2018.

By Yimou Lee

HUALIEN, Taiwan (Reuters) – Scores of aftershocks hampered rescue efforts on Thursday as emergency personnel combed through collapsed buildings in search of survivors after a powerful earthquake killed at least 10 people near Taiwan’s tourist city of Hualien.

The coastal city was hit on Tuesday by a magnitude 6.4 quake just before midnight (11.00 a.m ET) that injured 270 people. Four buildings collapsed, officials said, and seven people were still missing.

Volunteers pray outside a collapsed building after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 8, 2018.

Volunteers pray outside a collapsed building after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 8, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Rescuers stepped up efforts at one of the worst-hit structures, a 12-storey building that housed apartments and a small hotel, where authorities believe most of those still missing to have been, including several foreigners.

Thick steel girders propped up the heavily leaning structure to keep it from collapsing further, with the lower floors having already caved in.

“Everyone was surprised,” said Huang Chang Po, the 58-year-old owner of a unit in the building, built in 1994.

“We have strong earthquakes all the time in Hualien and it’s really bizarre that our building collapsed,” he told Reuters.

Up to 100 soldiers, rescuers, police, aid workers and volunteers scrambled in the cold and rain outside to find survivors, as excavators cleared away debris.

At an emergency meeting on Thursday, other residents and owners raised concerns about possible recent modifications and demanded a structural check by engineers to determine the cause of the collapse.

It was too early to ascertain the cause, however, said Chang Cheng Chen, an engineer from a regional architects’ association.

“It requires a thorough technical inspection, which may take two to three months,” he said, adding that factors such as the nature of the soil and how quake waves passed through the building could have played a part.

More than 220 aftershocks followed the main quake, including a 5.7 quake late on Wednesday. A Reuters witness said people rushed out of a residential building and rescue workers looked up from piles of debris after one such quiver.

Authorities “would not give up” on disaster relief efforts, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said during her second visit to the quake-hit area on Thursday.

“I didn’t really dare stay at home,” said Hualien resident Yang Yantin. “The area around my house is actually not that bad, the houses are all OK but, because of the aftershocks, I don’t really want to stay there.”

A damaged building is seen after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 8, 2018.

A damaged building is seen after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 8, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Lin Tzu Wei, an official at the Central Weather Bureau, said continued vigilance of seismic activity was needed.

“We have not seen a sign of a slowdown yet,” he told Reuters by telephone. “We need to continue to monitor the situation for one to two days…this is quite a rare event.”

As many as 150 people were initially feared missing in the rubble.

More than 600 soldiers and 1,300 police spread out to help the rescue effort, along with a team from Japan. The government said three mainland Chinese were among the dead.

Chen Deming, president of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, said the mainland was willing to help with relief efforts, such as sending teams to the island. Taiwan authorities declined, however.

More than 800 people sought refuge in shelters overnight, many too scared to stay home as aftershocks fueled panic.

Hualien, whose rugged Pacific coastline and picturesque Taroko Gorge National Park are a major tourist draw, is home to about 100,000 people. Its streets were buckled by the quake, leaving large cracks in major roads.

“I’ve never experienced an earthquake but I’d heard people say there were often earthquakes here, so at first I didn’t react,” said tourist Zhang Hongcong.

“But later when all the lights started smashing – the floor was covered in glass – that is when I realized it was serious.”

Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China considers its own, lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is prone to earthquakes. An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1struck nearby on Sunday.

More than 100 people were killed in a quake in southern Taiwan in 2016, and in 1999, a quake of magnitude 7.6 killed more than 2,000 people.

(Additional reporting by Jess Macy Yu in TAIPEI, and Natalie Thomas in HUALIEN; John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by James Pomfret and Clarence Fernandez)