‘Can’t take this pain’: Rohingya mother searches for son after refugee camp blaze

By Ruma Paul

BALUKHALI REFUGEE CAMP, Bangladesh (Reuters) – After losing her husband, two young sons and her home, Noor Banu thought she had seen the worst of life.

She made the perilous journey from her village in Myanmar’s Rakhine State to the refugee camps in Bangladesh in 2017, with nothing except her four surviving boys.

Now she fears she has lost another son to the massive blaze that ripped through the Cox’s Bazar camps, reducing tarpaulin and bamboo shelters to ash. More than 300 refugees are missing. Eleven-year-old Mohammed Karim is among them.

“I can’t take this pain any more,” Banu said, breaking into sobs as she spoke to Reuters inside a temporary shelter on Friday.

“I believe Karim is dead, and I may not even be able to identify his body.”

The 32-year-old Rohingya Muslim has already seen two sons die by fire.

In 2016, as the Myanmar army poured into Rohingya villages in response to coordinated insurgent attacks on security posts, Banu said her home was set ablaze in Pawet Chaung, killing the two boys – one barely a year old, and another seven.

“My home was torched in front of my eyes,” she said. “I could do nothing to save my children from the blaze.”

Her sons still bear burn marks from the fire.

Banu was among hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar in 2017 following army operations that the United Nations called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Myanmar denies the charge and says it was waging legitimate counterinsurgency operations against Rohingya insurgents.

SEARCHING

Banu is one of around a million Rohingya refugees living at the camps. Myanmar denies most Rohingya citizenship and considers them interlopers from Bangladesh even though they have lived in Myanmar for decades.

She – like many others – arrived with the trauma of the violence back home. Her husband went missing in 2015, and she said she later learned he had been arrested and was in jail – she does not know on what charges. She has not heard from him since.

The family stayed at a shelter close to those of her relatives and survived on food aid.

The boys began to attend the religious school at the camps. Slowly, they were learning to build a life out of ruins.

On Monday, Banu said she had just finished with lunch when she heard people screaming and rushed out of her hut. Her four boys, who had been at the madrassa, were running toward her, and behind them, flames were rising from shelters.

“My sons were hurrying home to take me away,” she said.

She grabbed her youngest and ran, but as people scurried from the fire, Banu said she was separated from her other sons.

That evening, two of the boys managed to reach her by making calls through the phones of other refugees. Four days on, there has been no word from Karim.

The ruins of scores of charred huts can be seen at the hilly camps. Some 45,000 refugees have been displaced, according to the United Nations. Some refugees are working to rebuild their tent homes, others search for their relatives. Eleven people have so far been confirmed dead.

Banu has approached aid agencies at the camps to seek help in finding Karim, but her hope is fading.

“My son knows the camps very well,” she said. “If he was alive, he would have returned to me by now.”

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Additional reporting by Mohammad Hossain; Writing by Zeba Siddiqui; Editing by Alison Williams)

‘Devastating’ fire at Rohingya camp in Bangladesh kills 15, leaves 400 missing – UN

By Ruma Paul and Emma Farge

DHAKA (Reuters) – At least 15 people have been killed in a massive fire that ripped through a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, while at least 400 remain missing, the U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday.

“It is massive, it is devastating,” said UNHCR’s Johannes Van der Klaauw, who joined a Geneva briefing virtually from Dhaka, Bangladesh. “We still have 400 people unaccounted for, maybe somewhere in the rubble.”

He said the UNHCR had reports of more than 550 people injured and about 45,000 displaced.

Bangladeshi officials are investigating the cause of the blaze even as emergency and aid workers and families sift through the debris looking for further victims. The fire ripped through the Balukhali camp near the southeastern town of Cox’s Bazar late on Monday, burning through thousands of shanties as people scrambled to save their meagre possessions.

“Everything has gone. Thousands are without homes,” Aman Ullah, a Rohingya refugee from the Balukhali camp, told Reuters. “The fire was brought under control after six hours but some parts of the camp could be seen smoking all night long.”

Authorities in Bangladesh have so far confirmed 11 deaths.

Some 40,000 huts in the camp were burned down, said Mohammad Mohsin, secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, after visiting the camp.

Two major hospitals of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Turkish government were also destroyed, he told reporters in Cox’s Bazar.

“A seven-member committee has been formed to investigate the matter,” he said.

Sanjeev Kafley, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’s delegation head in Bangladesh, said more than 17,000 shelters had been destroyed and tens of thousands of people displaced.

More than a thousand Red Cross staff and volunteers worked with fire services to extinguish the blaze, spread over four sections of the camp containing roughly 124,000 people, he said. That represents around one-tenth of an estimated 1 million Rohingya refugees in the area, Kafley said.

“I have been in Cox’s Bazar for three-and-a-half years and have never seen such a fire,” he told Reuters. “These people have been displaced two times. For many, there is nothing left.”

BARBED WIRE

Some witnesses said that barbed wire fencing around the camp trapped many people, hurting some and leading international humanitarian agencies to call for its removal.

Humanitarian organization Refugees International, which estimated 50,000 people had been displaced, said the extent of the damage may not be known for some time.

“Many children are missing, and some were unable to flee because of barbed wire set up in the camps,” it said in a statement.

John Quinley of Fortify Rights, a rights organization working with Rohingya, said he had heard similar reports, adding the fences had hampered the distribution of humanitarian aid and vital services at the camps in the past.

“The government must remove the fences and protect refugees,” Quinley said. “There have now been a number of large fires in the camps including a large fire in January this year… The authorities must do a proper investigation into the cause of the fires.”

The vast majority of the people in the camps fled Myanmar in 2017 amid a military-led crackdown on the Rohingya that U.N. investigators said was executed with “genocidal intent”, charges Myanmar denies.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul in Dhaka and Emma Farge in Geneva; Additional reporting and writing by Alasdair Pal in New Delhi and Euan Rocha in Mumbai; Editing by Jane Wardell and Bernadette Baum)

India glacier avalanche leaves 18 dead, more than 200 missing

By Saurabh Sharma

LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) – Rescuers searched for more than 200 people missing in the Indian Himalayas on Monday, including some trapped in a tunnel, after part of a glacier broke away, sending a torrent of water, rock and dust down a mountain valley.

Sunday’s violent surge below Nanda Devi, India’s second-highest peak, swept away the small Rishiganga hydro electric project and damaged a bigger one further down the Dhauliganga river being built by state firm NTPC.

Eighteen bodies have been recovered from the mountainsides, officials said.

Most of the missing were people working on the two projects, part of the many the government has been building deep in the mountains of Uttarakhand state as part of a development push.

“As of now, around 203 people are missing,” state chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said, and the number was changing as more information about people caught up by the deluge emerged from the remote area.

Videos on social media showed water surging through a small dam site, washing away construction equipment and bringing down small bridges.

“Everything was swept away, people, cattle and trees,” Sangram Singh Rawat, a former village council member of Raini, the site closest to the Rishiganga project, told local media.

It was not immediately clear what caused the glacier burst on a bright Sunday morning. Experts said it had snowed heavily last week in the Nanda Devi area and it was possible that some of the snow started melting and may have led to an avalanche.

Rescue squads were focused on drilling their way through a 2.5 km (1.5 miles) long tunnel at the Tapovan Vishnugad hydropower project site that NTPC was building 5 km (3 miles) downstream where about 30 workers were believed trapped.

“We are trying to break open the tunnel, it’s a long one, about 2.5 km,” said Ashok Kumar, the state police chief. He said rescuers had gone 150 meters (yards) into the tunnel but debris and slush were slowing progress.

There had been no voice contact yet with anyone in the tunnel, another official said. Heavy equipment has been employed and a dog squad flown to the site to locate survivors.

On Sunday, 12 people were rescued from another much smaller tunnel.

TRIGGER FOR GLACIER BURST

Uttarakhand is prone to flash floods and landslides and the disaster prompted calls by environment groups for a review of power projects in the ecologically sensitive mountains. In June 2013, record monsoon rains there caused devastating floods that claimed close to 6,000 lives.

A team of scientists were flown over the site of the latest accident on Monday to find out what exactly happened.

“It’s a very rare incident for a glacial burst to happen. Satellite and Google Earth images do not show a glacial lake near the region, but there’s a possibility that there may be a water pocket in the region,” said Mohd Farooq Azam, assistant professor, glaciology & hydrology at the Indian Institute of Technology in Indore.

Water pockets are lakes inside the glaciers, which may have erupted leading to this event. Environmental groups have blamed construction activity in the mountains.

Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of the South Asia Network of Dams, Rivers and People, said that there were clear government recommendations against the use of explosives for construction purposes. “There have been violations.”

The latest accident had also raised questions about the safety of the dams. “The dams are supposed to withstand much greater force. This was not a monsoon flood, it was much smaller.”

(Additional reporting by Nivedita Bhattachargee and Neha Arora; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Michael Perry, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Giles Elgood)

Ten China gold miners confirmed dead after others rescued; one still missing

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Rescuers searching for the remaining workers trapped in a Chinese gold mine after Sunday’s dramatic extraction of 11 survivors found nine bodies, a local official said on Monday, taking the death toll to 10, with one miner still missing.

A total of 22 miners working about 600 meters (2,000 feet) underground were trapped after an explosion at the Hushan mine in Qixia, a major gold-producing region in China’s coastal Shandong province, on Jan. 10.

Eleven were pulled out alive on Sunday after two weeks underground, including one in a very weak condition whom rescue teams had been unable to send supplies to.

Yantai Mayor Chen Fei said rescuers kept searching from Sunday to Monday afternoon and found the bodies of nine miners, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

That means a total of 10 miners are confirmed to have died, following the earlier death in the mine of one worker who had lapsed into a coma, and their remains have been lifted to the surface, Chen said, adding that one miner was still missing.

The search is difficult and water levels are high, but as long as the missing worker has not been found the work will not stop, the CCTV report added.

SUNDAY SALVATION

The 11 miners freed on Sunday were rescued much earlier than expected after it emerged that steel pipes in a blocked mine shaft had prevented debris from falling lower, according to state media.

The air ventilation shaft, which was the most feasible way to bring up the workers, had been cleared to a depth of 368 meters (1,207 feet), Xiao Wenru, chief engineer for the mine rescue, told the Xinhua news agency on Monday.

“It is at this location we discovered that there were some steel pipes supporting the blockage … there is almost no blockage under the steel pipes,” said Xiao.

Xiao told Xinhua on Sunday there had been a breakthrough in rescue efforts after clearing some blockages and finding the “cavities underneath.”

The 11 miners were mostly in good condition. Officials had earlier said they may have to wait another 15 days before they could be rescued due to a blockage along their intended escape route.

China’s mines are among the world’s deadliest. The country recorded 573 mine-related deaths in 2020, according to the National Mine Safety Administration.

(Reporting by Emily Chow; additional reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Michael Perry and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Tornadoes tear through Nashville, Tennessee on Super Tuesday, killing 22

By Timothy Ghianni

NASHVILLE (Reuters) – Powerful tornadoes tore through Nashville, Tennessee and surrounding counties early on Tuesday, killing at least 22 people, leaving others missing and reducing homes and businesses to rubble even as voters throughout the state cast ballots in the Super Tuesday presidential primary.

The death toll may rise given the number of people who remain unaccounted for following the twisters, which struck about 1 a.m. central standard time (2 p.m. eastern) Governor William Lee said at a news briefing.

Lee did not estimate how many people remained missing following his visit to devastated neighborhoods of Nashville, the state capitol, but said rescue teams were going door to door searching for trapped or injured residents.

“We encourage all Tennesseans to join us in praying for the families across our state that are facing tragedy today. Thank you to our first responders for working around the clock to keep us safe on this difficult day, Lee said on Twitter, describing the damage as “surreal.”

The National Weather Service said eight tornadoes reportedly touched down in Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky but that number could change following further analysis. It was not yet clear how many landed a direct hit on Nashville.

In addition to the fatalities, at least 30 people were injured and about 48 buildings were destroyed in Nashville, with many more damaged, Fire Department Director Chief William Swann said. Tens of thousands of people were left without power.

“Severe weather and tornados have impacted several counties in Tennessee. Counties with the greatest impacts include Davidson, Wilson, and Putnam Counties,” the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said in a post on its website.

The storm struck as many were sleeping in Nashville, home to 691,000 people and one of the fastest growing cities in the United States.

POLLING STATIONS STAY OPEN

Pictures and video posted on Twitter showed lightning illuminating the dark sky as the twisters roared through the country music capital, and daybreak revealed dozens of leveled houses and businesses.

Tennessee is one 14 U.S. states holding presidential primary elections on Super Tuesday and despite the destruction, polling sites were mostly open for voting, officials said.

Crushed vehicles, piles of debris and broken power lines littered streets blocked by rescue vehicles. Residents carried away belongings from ravaged homes.

Greg Poulson, a 61-year-old man who lives in a Nashville homeless encampment with about 85 other people, said wind gusts lifted him off the ground as he ran underneath a bridge.

“I had a tree fall on my tent,” Poulson said. “The storm dropped right on top of us. We were ground zero.”

Charlotte Cooper, a French teacher at a Nashville Classical Charter School, said she felt lucky a twister had skipped over her house, which still suffered cracked windows and a downed fence.

“It’s like a war zone,” she said.

Apart from the public buildings set to be used for polling, schools, district offices and courts were closed.

Lee said he had spoken to the Trump administration about federal assistance. President Donald Trump said that he will go to Tennessee on Friday.

The twister knocked down power lines, and one utility pole dangled horizontally in the street in the Donelson area, home to country music’s most famous concert stage, the Grand Ole Opry.

Nashville Electric, the city’s public utility, said there were more than 47,000 customers without power, with damage to four substations, 15 primary distribution lines, and multiple power poles and lines.

John C. Tune Airport, about 8 miles from downtown Nashville, “sustained significant damage” and several hangars were destroyed, the airport said on its website.

Another 25,000 homes and businesses were without power elsewhere in Tennessee, emergency officials said.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bernadette Baum and David Gregorio)

Spitting volcano keeps search parties off New Zealand island, death toll rises to six

By Charlotte Greenfield

WHAKATANE, New Zealand (Reuters) – Fearing a volcano could erupt again, search parties were unable to set foot on New Zealand’s White Island for eight people still missing on Tuesday, as police raised the death toll to six from the eruption a day earlier.

Police doubted whether any more survivors would be found. They said the latest victim died in hospital, having been among more than 30 people injured in the eruption on the uninhabited island, a popular sightseeing excursion for tourists.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said reconnaissance flights showed no signs of life on the ash covered island, as eyewitnesses detailed the horrific burns suffered by those caught up in Monday’s eruption.

“The scale of this tragedy is devastating,” Ardern said in parliament. “To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your grief and sorrow and we are devastated.”

Police said 47 people were on White Island at the time of the eruption.

Twenty-four came from Australia, nine from the United States, five from New Zealand, four from Germany, two each from China and the Britain and one from Malaysia.

“I would strongly suggest that there is no one that has survived on the island,” police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said of the eight people still missing.

Most of the injured had suffered greater than 71% body surface burns, said Peter Watson, the government’s chief medical officer, warning that some might not survive.

Burn units across the South Pacific nation of 4.5 million are full to capacity, he added.

Relatives of missing tour guide Tipene Maangi held onto hopes that the 23-year-old man had survived, unsure whether he was among those in hospital.

“We are all standing strong, standing together, holding the fort together, and like I said in prayer with faith… we are just staying strong for one another until we actually know for sure,” said his aunt Ronnie.

Police said an investigation into the deaths on White Island had been launched but clarified it was not a criminal investigation.

New Zealand’s geological hazards agency GeoNet raised the alert level for the volcano in November because of an increase in volcanic activity. The volcano’s last fatal eruption was in 1914, when it killed 12 sulphur miners.

Yet, daily tours bring more than 10,000 visitors to the privately owned island every year, marketed as “the world’s most accessible active marine volcano”.

“I have to say that I’m very surprised to hear there were visitors there today, because scientists seem to have been well aware that White Island was entering a phase of heightened activity,” said Drexel University volcanologist Loÿc Vanderkluysen.

“I’ve been to White Island before, but I don’t think I would have been comfortable being there today.”

A crater rim camera owned and operated by GeoNet showed one group of people walking away from the rim inside the crater just a minute before the explosion.

“It’s now clear that there were two groups on the island – those who were able to be evacuated and those who were close to the eruption,” Ardern said at a morning news conference in Whakatane, a town on the mainland’s east coast, about 50 km (30 miles) from White Island.

INCREDIBLY BRAVE

Later, in parliament, she paid tribute to the pilots of four helicopters that landed on White Island in the aftermath of the eruption.

“In their immediate efforts to get people off the island, those pilots made an incredibly brave decision under extremely dangerous circumstances,” Ardern said.

Since then, rescuers have been unable to access the island, which is covered in gray ash. GNS Science, New Zealand’s geoscience agency, warned there was a 50/50 chance of another eruption in the coming 24 hours, as the volcano vent continued to emit “steam and mud jetting.”

The Buttle family have owned the island for over 80 years, and a spokesman said they were devastated by the tragic event.

“We wish to thank everyone involved in the rescue effort, including the first responders, medical personnel and the locals who helped evacuate people from the island,” Peter Buttle said. “Their efforts have been both courageous and extraordinary.”

Royal Caribbean confirmed several passengers on its 16-deck cruise liner, Ovation of the Seas, were on a day trip to the island but did not provide further information.

Janet Urey, 61, a nurse from Richmond, Virginia, said her son Matthew, 36, and his wife, Janet, 32, were cruise passengers injured in the eruption while on their honeymoon.

“The phone rang at midnight. Then I heard a voicemail come on. It was my son. He said, ‘Mom … this is not a joke. A volcano erupted while we were on the island. We’re at the hospital with severe burns.'”

Urey said she was frustrated by the lack of information from the cruise ship he was on and from authorities.

“I have not heard a word from the cruise people,” she said.

A New Zealand man, Geoff Hopkins, whose tour group was just leaving the island at the time of the eruption, said he helped pull critically injured survivors into a boat.

Hopkins, 50, who was given the tour as a birthday gift, said many of the survivors had run into the sea to escape the eruption.

“People were in shorts and T-shirts so there was a lot of exposed skin that was massively burnt,” he told the NZ Herald newspaper.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said three Australians were feared to be among the confirmed fatalities, with 13 among the injured.

A website managed by the New Zealand Red Cross listed 17 Australians as missing though some could be among those in hospital.

Malaysia’s high commission in New Zealand said one Malaysian was among the dead, while Britain’s high commissioner to New Zealand confirmed two British women were among the injured.

Russell Clark, an intensive care paramedic with a helicopter team, said the early scenes were overwhelming.

“Everything was just blanketed in ash,” he told Reuters. “It was quite an overwhelming feeling.”

‘Whakaari’, as it is known in the Maori language, is New Zealand’s most-active cone volcano, built up by continuous volcanic activity over the past 150,000 years, according to GeoNet.

(GRAPHIC – Volcanic Eruption in New Zealand – https://graphics.reuters.com/NEW%20ZEALAND-VOLCANO/0100B4PR2DX/nzl-volcano.jpg)

(GRAPHIC – Volcano map of New Zealand – https://graphics.reuters.com/NEW%20ZEALAND-VOLCANO/0100B4PY2EJ/New-Zealand-Volcano-Map.jpg)

(GRAPHIC – Volcanic alerts for White Island since 1995 – https://graphics.reuters.com/NEW%20ZEALAND-VOLCANO/0100B4Q22ES/New-Zealand-Volcano-Alerts.jpg)

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Whakatane and Praveen Menon in Wellington, additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Jane Wardell and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Gerry Doyle & Simon Cameron-Moore)

More than two dozen people feared missing after New Zealand volcanic eruption kills 5

More than two dozen people feared missing after New Zealand volcanic eruption kills 5
By Charlotte Greenfield

WHAKATANE, New Zealand (Reuters) – More than two dozen people were feared missing on Tuesday, a day after a volcano that is a tourist attraction suddenly erupted off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island, killing at least five people and injuring up to 20.

Police said early on Tuesday they did not expect to find any more survivors from the volcanic eruption, which occurred on White Island on Monday at about 2:11 p.m. (0111 GMT), spewing a plume of ash thousands of feet into the air.

About 50 people, New Zealanders as well as foreign tourists, are believed to have been nearby at the time and several were seen near the rim of the crater minutes before the eruption.

Rescue services have been unable to reach White Island as it remains too dangerous.

“No signs of life have been seen at any point,” the police said in their statement early on Tuesday after rescue helicopters and other aircraft had carried out a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island.

“Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation.”

Tour operators took some people off the island before it was declared unsafe. Twenty-three people were rescued, police said on Monday, adding that others were still on the island.

“Police (are) working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died…” their statement said, adding that a ship would approach the island at first light on Tuesday to further “assess the environment”.

Many day tours visit the island regularly. One from a 16-deck cruise liner, Ovation of the Seas, was there at the time.

“Both New Zealanders and overseas tourists are believed to (have been) involved, and a number were from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship,” the police statement said.

St. John Ambulance said up to 20 people were believed to have been injured in the eruption, adding that a mobile triage unit was on its way.

Several people with burn injuries were brought by helicopter to Whakatane, the nearest town on the mainland.

“I know there will be a huge amount of concern and anxiety for those who had loved ones on or around the island at the time. I can assure them that police are doing everything they can,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference after landing in Whakatane late on Monday.

Ardern was expected to give an update on the situation at a news conference set for 7 a.m. on Tuesday (1800 GMT on Monday).

“DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN”

Michael Schade, an engineering manager from San Francisco, was one of the tourists who made it off the island just before the eruption.

“This is so hard to believe,” Schade said in a video posted on Twitter as he sped away from the island by boat. “Our whole tour group were literally standing at the edge of the main crater not 30 minutes before.”

A crater rim camera owned and operated by New Zealand science agency GeoNet shows groups of people walking toward and away from the rim inside the crater, from which white vapor constantly billows, in the hour leading up to the eruption.

White Island is about 50 km (30 miles) from the east coast of North Island and huge plumes were visible from the mainland. Volcanologists said the ash plume shot 12,000 feet (3,658 m) into the air.

“White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years,” said Ray Cas, a professor emeritus at Monash University, in comments published by the Australian Science Media Center.

“Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter.”

Geological hazard tracker GeoNet raised the alert level for the White Island volcano in November due to an increase in volcanic activity.

The White Island volcano’s last fatal eruption was in 1914, when it killed 12 sulfur miners. There was a short-lived eruption in April 2016. Daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year.

‘Whakaari’, as it is known in the Maori language, is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano, built up by continuous volcanic activity over the past 150,000 years, GeoNet said.

About 70 percent is under the sea, making the massive volcanic structure the largest in New Zealand.

(For a graphic on ‘Volcanic Eruption in New Zealand’ click https://graphics.reuters.com/NEW%20ZEALAND-VOLCANO/0100B4PR2DX/nzl-volcano.jpg)

(Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

U.S. launches anti-violence effort for indigenous women, girls

U.S. launches anti-violence effort for indigenous women, girls
By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – U.S. President Donald Trump launched a task force on Tuesday to help protect Native American women and children, calling the rate of violence among indigenous people “heartbreaking.”

The task force aims to improve coordination and communication among federal, state and tribal authorities in response to cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and children, the White House said in a statement.

Native American women in some tribal communities are 10 times more likely than the average American to be murdered, it said, and the initiative called Operation Lady Justice is an “aggressive, government-wide strategy” to address the crisis.

“The statistics are sobering and heartbreaking,” Trump said at a White House ceremony where he signed an executive order creating the task force. “Too many are still missing and their whereabouts are unknown.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” he added.

Research by the National Institute of Justice, a government research agency, has found more than four out of five American Indian and Alaska Native women – more than 1.5 million women – have experienced violence in their lifetime.

More than 5,700 American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls were reported missing in 2016, according to the National Crime Information Center, a government data agency.

American Indian women are two-and-a-half times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women of all other races, while one in three reports having been raped, the U.S. Department of Justice has said.

“It’s imperative that this changes, in a manner that we’re looked at not as the second-class citizens but looked like, looked at as any other group that exists within the continent of the United States,” said Kevin DuPuis, chairman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, at the White House event.

“It’s very, very important that we, as a people, have a true identity. And when we lose our women and we lose our children that goes with them,” he said.

Several leading Native American rights organizations did not respond to requests for comment on the new task force.

Law enforcement and prosecutions are often hampered by a maze of jurisdictions and justice systems based on such factors as whether a crime occurred on tribal land or whether the victim or the accused is a tribal member.

Last week the government announced an initiative to spend $1.5 million for law enforcement to help coordinate Native American missing persons cases.

Nearly seven million Native Americans live in the United States making up about 2% of the population, according to census figures.

Trump’s signing of the order came two days before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday which commemorates a harvest celebration shared by Native Americans and European settlers in the 17th century.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Chris Michaud (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Many still missing after deadly attack near Canadian-run mine in Burkina Faso

Many still missing after deadly attack near Canadian-run mine in Burkina Faso
OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) – Dozens of people were feared still missing on Thursday after an ambush on workers near a Canadian-owned mine in Burkina Faso killed at least 37 and wounded 60 in the worst such attack in the West African nation for years.

Quebec-based gold miner Semafo <SMF.TO> said five of its buses with a military escort came under fire on the road leading to its Boungou mine in the eastern region of Est, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Boungou, on Wednesday.

The assailants’ identity was unclear, but Burkina Faso is struggling to combat surging Islamist violence in the remote eastern and northern scrubland areas. It was unclear exactly how many people were in the convoy, what their nationalities were or how many were missing. But the company has said that under new safety guidelines, Burkinabe employees travel to and from the mine with a military escort by road while international staff are flown by helicopter.

Semafo had tightened security last year following attacks that killed three workers and five security officials.

Two separate sources who have worked at the mine said that the convoy left weekly carrying about 250 local staff usually in five buses of 50 to 60 people each.

Two security sources told Reuters that dozens may still be unaccounted for.

Government and military officials declined to comment.

A spokesperson for Canada’s foreign ministry said there were no reports so far of any of its nationals being affected.

Once a pocket of relative calm in the Sahel region, Burkina has suffered a homegrown insurgency for the past three years, amplified by a spillover of jihadist violence and criminality from its chaotic northern neighbor Mali.

Wednesday’s attack is the worst since jihadist groups with links to Islamic State and al Qaeda began targeting the landlocked nation with high profile attacks in January 2016.

Then, armed al Qaeda militants killed 32 people in a raid on a popular cafe and hotel in the capital Ouagadougou.

(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

Rescuers search waist-high muddy waters for missing people in typhoon-hit Japan

By Kwiyeon Ha and Kyung Hoon Kim

NAGANO, Japan (Reuters) – Rescue workers waded through muddy, waist-high waters on Monday searching for missing people after one of the worst typhoons to hit Japan in recent history, while rain fell again in some affected areas, stoking fears of further flooding.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said vast areas had been struck by the storm and called for urgent support to those affected.

At least 56 people were killed in the typhoon, which left vast sections of towns in central and eastern Japan under water, with another 15 missing and 211 injured, public broadcaster NHK said.

Tens of thousands of rescue workers and a fleet of helicopters fanned out in the affected areas, officials said.

“There still are many residents who have yet to be accounted for. Our people in uniform are working day and night in search and rescue operations,” Abe told an emergency meeting of ministers.

“Damage has been made in an extremely wide range of areas, and more than 30,000 people are still being forced to remain in the state of evacuation. It is our urgent task to offer meticulous support to those who have been affected.”

Typhoon Hagibis, which means “speed” in the Philippine language Tagalog, made landfall on Japan’s main island of Honshu on Saturday and headed out to sea early on Sunday.

Groups of rescuers wearing goggles and snorkels looked for survivors while making their way in waist-high water in Nagano, central Japan, where the Chikuma River inundated swathes of land. A middle-aged man in Nagano, asked about the situation around his house, told NHK: “It’s just like a lake.”

Yoshinobu Tsuchiya, 69, returned on Monday morning to his home in Nagano city, near where the Chikuma had breached its banks, to find that his first floor had been flooded and that the garden he tended had turned to brown mud.

“So this is what it’s come to,” Tsuchiya sighed to the Nikkei newspaper. “I can’t even imagine when we’ll finish cleaning up. I’m sick of this flood.”

A neighbour in his 60s told the newspaper: “This is just like a tsunami. This is hopeless.”

At a second emergency meeting on Monday, Abe urged ministers to do their utmost to help evacuees return to normal life as soon as possible.

More than 110,000 police officers, firefighters, soldiers and coastguard personnel, as well as some 100 helicopters, were mobilised for Monday’s rescue operations, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Heavy rain was forecast for Monday night in some parts of central and eastern Japan, where soil is already loosened by record-breaking downpours from the typhoon, prompting Suga to urge residents to keep their guard up.

“Rain is expected in affected areas today. Because of the rain we have seen so far, levels of water are high in some rivers and soil is loose in some areas,” Suga said. “Please remain on your guard for landslides and river overflows.”

A Nagano city official said there were some showers by early afternoon, although they were not heavy.

Some parts of Japan saw about one third of their average annual precipitation just over the weekend, causing 37 rivers to break their banks, NHK said.

More than 77,000 households were still without power by mid-afternoon on Monday, a national holiday, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said. That was down from 262,000 households as of midday on Sunday.

Also, about 136,000 households were without running water as of Monday morning, Suga said.

In Fukushima, north of the capital, Tokyo Electric Power Co <9501.T> reported nine cases of irregular readings from sensors monitoring water over the weekend at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was crippled by a 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

But a Tokyo Electric official said on Monday eight of the irregular readings were triggered by rainwater, and the other one by a malfunction of a monitor, and that there was no leakage of contaminated water.

(Reporting by Kyung Hoon Kim, Kwiyeon Ha; Writing by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Mark Heinrich)