Recovery on Bahamas begins as Hurricane Dorian heads for Florida, Carolinas

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, September 3, 2019, in this image obtained via social media. Michelle Cove/Trans Island Airways/via REUTERS

By Dante Carrer

MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas (Reuters) – Debris extended for miles and floods covered much of the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, in what the archipelago’s prime minister called one of the worst disasters to ever strike the island nation.

Emergency workers struggled to reach victims as search and rescue operations continued into Wednesday and the scope of the damage and humanitarian crisis unfolded.

“We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history,” Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told a news conference. “No effort or resources will be held back.”

News media reported early on Wednesday that some storm victims remained stuck on rooftops, waiting for rescue. The official death count of seven is expected rise in the coming days.

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, September 3, 2019, in this image obtained via social media. Michelle Cove/Trans Island Airways/via REUTERS

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, September 3, 2019, in this image obtained via social media. Michelle Cove/Trans Island Airways/via REUTERS

“We can expect more deaths to be recorded. This is just preliminary information,” Minnis told a news conference.

“Marsh Harbor has suffered, I would estimate, in excess of 60 percent damage to their homes,” Minnis said, referring to the port on Great Abaco.

“The Mud, as we know, has been completely destroyed or decimated,” he said referring to a shantytown known as the Mud and the Peas.

Aerial video of the Bahamas’ Great Abaco Island showed miles of flooded neighborhoods, pulverized buildings, upturned boats and shipping containers scattered like toys. Many buildings had walls or roofs partly ripped off.

“Victims are being loaded on flatbed trucks across Abaco,” said one Twitter poster with the handle @mvp242, describing a rain-blurred photograph of limp bodies strewn across a truck bed. Other Twitter messages said whole communities were swept away.

Dorian’s winds had diminished to a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, the hurricane grew in size and picked up speed.

Forecasters said it would come dangerously close to Florida’s east coast on Wednesday, where more than a million people have been ordered evacuated.

Dorian packed sustained winds of 105 miles per hour (165 kph) and was moving north-northwest at 8 mph, as it churned about 90 miles east of Daytona Beach, Florida, the NHC said in a 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT) advisory.

“On this track, the core of Hurricane Dorian will move dangerously close to the Florida east coast and the Georgia coast through tonight,” a 5 a.m. NHC advisory said.

Hurricane-force winds had expanded to 60 miles from the storm’s core. “Dorian is expected to remain a powerful hurricane during the next couple of days,” the NHC said.

Heavy rains and storm surge waters moving inland could cause life-threatening flash floods, the NHC said. The risk extended from Jupiter, Fla., to Surf City, N.C. Tornadoes are possible along the Florida coast until tonight, with the risk later moving to Georgia and South Carolina.

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, September 3, 2019, in this image obtained via social media. Michelle Cove/Trans Island Airways/via REUTERS

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, September 3, 2019, in this image obtained via social media. Michelle Cove/Trans Island Airways/via REUTERS

LONG LISTS OF MISSING

With telephones down on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, residents posted lists of missing loved ones across social media.

A single Facebook post by media outlet Our News Bahamas seeking the names of missing people had 1,600 comments listing lost family members since it went live on Tuesday morning.

The exact toll in the Bahamas will not be clear until the storm passes and rescue crews can get to devastated areas, said Theo Neilly, the Bahamian consul general in Washington.

“We expect it to be very devastating and the damage to be extreme,” Neilly said. Dorian has battered the Bahamas for the past three days.

As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or severely damaged, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said, in the strongest storm ever to hit the Bahamas.

Food may be required for 14,500 people in the northern Bahamas’ Abaco Islands and for 45,700 people in Grand Bahama, the U.N. World Food Programme said in a statement. The preliminary estimates were based on an assessment by representatives of Caribbean nations, the WFP and other groups.

The U.S. Agency for International Development said on Twitter it was air-lifting critical relief items, such as plastic sheeting, hygiene kits, and water containers, from Miami to the Bahamas. The U.S. Coast Guard said four of its helicopters were assisting in humanitarian efforts.

Dorian, which killed one person in Puerto Rico before striking the Bahamas on Sunday, is tied for the second-strongest Atlantic storm to make landfall with Gilbert (1988), Wilma (2005) and the 1935 Labor Day hurricane.

Tropical-storm-force winds and rain squalls were already lashing parts of the Florida coast early on Wednesday, and hurricane-force winds are possible today. The winds and heavy surf is likely to hit the Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina coasts by late on Thursday. More than a million people were ordered to evacuate coastal counties in those states.

President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for South Carolina on Tuesday, freeing funds, other federal resources and manpower to assist during the storm and aftermath recovery. Emergencies have already been declared in Florida and Georgia.

(Reporting by Dante Carrer in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas; Zachary Fagenson in Jacksonville, Florida; Gabriella Borter in Titusville, Florida; Peter Szekely and Matthew Lavietes in New York;, Rich McKay in Atlanta; Idrees Ali in Washington: Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; and and Rebekah F. Ward in Mexico City; editing by Larry King)

A year later, Thailand’s rescued ‘cave boys’ honor diver who died

Members of the Wild Boars soccer team pose for a photo during their return to the Tham Luang caves, where they were trapped in a year ago, in Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 24, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

By Prapan Chankaew

CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) – A Thai soccer team trapped in a cave last year for 17 days returned there on Monday to perform Buddhist rituals honoring a former navy diver killed in the dramatic effort to rescue them that captivated the world.

A year after their ordeal, the team of 12, wearing yellow T-shirts, accompanied by their coach, gave alms to monks in honor of Sergeant Saman Kunan, who died while he worked underwater.

“I want to thank Sergeant Sam,” Ekkapol Chantawong, assistant coach of the Wild Boars soccer team, told Reuters Video News, as the group placed flowers before a portrait of the diver, set beside a row of shaven-headed monks in orange robes.

“Without him, I and the boys would not be standing here.”

The team, aged between 11 and 16, were trapped with their coach on June 23, 2018 when a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels of a cave complex they were exploring in the northern province of Chiang Rai.

The race to rescue them gripped public attention as experts from around the world volunteered to help.

Saman Kunan, a former member of an elite Thai Navy SEAL unit, died on the night of July 5 after entering the cave to place oxygen tanks along a potential exit route.

Saman’s wife, Waleeporn Kunan, said the boys always expressed their gratitude to her when they crossed paths in the district where they all live.

“Every time they see me, they would run over just like back then right after their rescue,” she said.

The boys received soccer shirts and offers of tours and match tickets as their rescue unfolded during the World Cup.

A year later, fascination with the saga has yet to die down.

Netflix said in April it had signed a deal to make a miniseries about the rescue, to be directed by “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu and Nattawut “Baz” Poonpiriya.

Two books about the rescue have been published, and a feature film by British-Thai director Tom Waller, “The Cave”, wrapped shooting in December, the Hollywood Reporter has said.

The boys, regarded as national treasures in Thailand, declined to be interviewed and referred questions to their soccer coach.

“Life is the same but now more people know about me,” said Ekkapol, who founded a new soccer team, Ekkapol Academy, for underprivileged and stateless children.

Ekkapol, who is from a minority group in Myanmar, was granted Thai citizenship after the rescue, as were several of the rescued boys who were also stateless.

“The football team is to encourage the boys, especially the border boys, to have somewhere they can play football. To have their own field and a brighter future,” he said.

(Reporting by Prapan Chankaew, Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; editing by Darren Schuettler and Clarence Fernandez)

Severe thunderstorm in Nepal leaves 25 dead, hundreds injured

Villagers stand near the debris of their houses after it was hit by the storm in Bara district, Nepal April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) – Over two dozen people were killed in a severe thunderstorm that swept through parts of southern Nepal late on Sunday and hundreds more were injured, police and officials said.

Nepal’s Prime Minster K.P. Sharma Oli in a tweet said 25 people had been killed, and around 400 were injured.

“Helicopters have been kept ready for immediate rescue and relief,” Oli said in his post. He offered condolences to the families of the victims.

Rajesh Paudel, the top bureaucrat of Bara district, where the storm hit, said the death toll may increase as rescuers were still trying to reach many of those affected. 

Bara is located about 62 km (39 miles) south of Kathmandu and borders India’s eastern state of Bihar.

Pre-monsoon thunderstorms are common in Nepal during the spring season but are rarely of an intensity that causes high casualties.

Police officer Sanu Ram Bhattarai said rescue teams had been dispatched to the affected villages, but reaching the victims was difficult at night.

Television channels said the storm and accompanying heavy rainfall, uprooted trees and electric and telephone poles, crushing some people to death.

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Susan Fenton)

Toddler rescue effort reaches most dangerous stage in Spain: engineer

A drill (C) is driven to work at the area where Julen, a Spanish two-year-old boy, fell into a deep well eight days ago when the family was taking a stroll through a private estate, in Totalan, southern Spain January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

TOTALAN, Spain (Reuters) – Efforts to reach a two-year-old boy who fell into a borehole in southern Spain more than a week ago are nearing their most dangerous stage, an engineer on the rescue team said on Monday.

The toddler, Julen, fell down the shaft as his family walked through a private estate in Totalan, Malaga on Jan. 13. There have been no signs of life since.

Miners have been drilling day and night to create a parallel shaft, hoping they will be able to cut across by Tuesday to find the child.

Work slowed on Sunday after the drill bit hit hard rock and officials said there was a risk of more collapses as they carved out the horizontal passage.

“The most dangerous part, the most delicate part, still remains to be done,” mining engineer Juan Lopez Escobar told Canal Sur.

“It is a complicated job where lives will be at risk, but they have practiced that, and they are the best,” he added.

Rescuers found that the borehole – 100 meters (300 feet) deep and just 25 cm (10 inches) wide – was blocked with earth, raising fears that soil had collapsed onto the child.

“We’re at 53 meters, and we’re just another seven meters away (from where) we start the next job of creating the chamber,” Angel Vidal, the lead engineer overseeing the work, told reporters.

Spanish miners and engineers have been joined by workers from a Swedish firm who helped locate 33 Chilean miners rescued after 69 days underground more than seven years ago.

Children and families have joined candlelight vigils across Spain in support of the missing boy.

El Pais reported that his parents suffered another tragedy in 2017 when their three-year-old son died suddenly after suffering a cardiac arrest while walking along a beach.

(Reporting by Miguel Pereira; writing by Jose Elias Rodriguez and Paul Day, editing by Andrei Khalip and Andrew Heavens)

Hurricane Florence: A picture and its story: Dogs in the disaster zone

FILE PHOTO: Panicked dogs that were left caged by an owner who fled rising floodwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, are rescued by volunteer rescuer Ryan Nichols of Longview, Texas, in Leland, North Carolina, U.S., September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake/File Photo

By Jonathan Drake

LELAND, N.C. (Reuters) – Three days after Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina, I was documenting the damage to Wilmington and communities to the south when I was tipped that volunteer rescuers were headed to a Leland church where people were isolated by rising floodwaters.

Even with a pickup truck, it is daunting to drive through waters dark and deep enough to obscure road signs. But experience covering storms and good waders enable you to cautiously measure water depth and current strength so you can get to compelling stories waiting to be told.

Ryan Nichols and David Rebollar have another way of getting to people and animals trapped by floods: a boat they haul from their Texas home to disaster zones. In the case of North Carolina, that was more than a thousand miles (1,600 km).

Having endured Hurricane Harvey, which hit Houston last year, the former Marines are on a mission to help when disaster strikes.

This day, as they lowered their craft into the water from a slice of dry land, a road was identifiable only by a few 7-foot-high street signs jutting above water. My colleague and I joined Nichols in the boat, and we made our way to the church about a thousand feet (300 meters) ahead.

Colonies of fire ants formed little islands floating beside toys. Desultory swing sets, as well as trees, gravestones and doleful statues, peered above the waterline.

While Nichols spoke with people at the church, we heard persistent barking at the back of a property across from it. He went to investigate and before long reappeared, saying urgently that “they” were trapped and we should hurry.

Abandoned dogs trapped in a cage, filling with rising floodwater, swim away after volunteer rescuer Ryan Nichols of Longview, Texas, freed them in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, in Leland, North Carolina, U.S., September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Abandoned dogs trapped in a cage, filling with rising floodwater, swim away after volunteer rescuer Ryan Nichols of Longview, Texas, freed them in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, in Leland, North Carolina, U.S., September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

We moved through knee-high water until we saw three hounds in a caged doghouse – two on their hind legs, the other on all fours with its head just above water. They were trembling, terrified and desperate to get out.

Nichols tried to soothe the dogs as he worked to open the cage. When he did, not three but six dogs bounded out, half swimming, half bouncing through a stretch of water that led to nearby dry ground. I followed the action with my camera close to the water at their height.

A neighbor up the street found some dog food, which they devoured.

With more and more people in the vicinity needing help, the volunteers and local residents decided to leave a lot of food for the dogs and let them roam on the higher ground to which they now had access and to tell local authorities about them.

Volunteer rescuer Ryan Nichols of Longview, Texas, pets one of the dogs that were left caged by an owner who fled rising floodwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Leland, North Carolina, U.S., September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Volunteer rescuer Ryan Nichols of Longview, Texas, pets one of the dogs that were left caged by an owner who fled rising floodwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Leland, North Carolina, U.S., September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Floodwaters rose in the hours that followed, and only began receding the next day, when Nichols returned to check on the dogs. He encountered their owner, who said she had had to evacuate in haste with young children, and that someone sent to check on the dogs was refused entry to the area because of flooding.

 

(Reporting by Jonathan Drake; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Jonathan Oatis)

After Indonesian earthquake terror, hundreds trek down from volcano

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (C) talks to earthquake victims inside a makeshift tent at Madayin village in Lombok Timur, Indonesia, July 30, 2018. Antara Foto/Ahmad Subaidi/via REUTERS

By Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Fergus Jensen

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Nearly 700 trekkers headed down Mount Rinjani on Indonesia’s tourist island of Lombok on Monday, a day after a powerful earthquake of magnitude 6.4 terrified the climbers as boulders tumbled down the slopes of the volcano.

Officials said the death toll from Sunday’s earthquake, which was centered on the northern part of Lombok, but was also felt on the resort island of Bali to the west, stood at 16. More than 335 people were injured, many by collapsing buildings.

“I thought I was going to die,” said John Robyn Buenavista, a 23-year-old American, who was at the summit when the quake hit. “I was clinging to the ground. It felt like it lasted forever. I saw people fall off, but it’s a blur.”

The national park authority said on Monday that a key route to the peak of the 3,726-meter (12,224-foot) volcano had been cleared, and a helicopter was dropping supplies to others still picking their way to safety.

An estimated 689 people were still on Rinjani, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman of the national disaster mitigation agency.

“Hundreds of trekkers in the crater in climbing areas couldn’t come down when they wanted to, because the paths were covered by debris from landslides and there were fears of subsequent landslides,” Sutopo told a news conference.

As many as 820 people – most of them foreigners – were on Mount Rinjani when the quake struck, making two trails impassable, Sutopo said on Twitter late on Sunday.

Thais formed the largest group among the 637 foreigners who registered to climb the mountain on July 27 and 28, making up 337, with French, Dutch and Spanish the next-biggest contingents.

Mount Rinjani National Park said in a Twitter message on Monday that a key route, Senaru, had been reopened for people to come down.

Authorities expected 500 trekkers to arrive at the foot of the mountain by 5 p.m, said Agung Pramuja, a disaster mitigation official in Indonesia’s region of West Nusa Tenggara.

A landslide triggered by the quake trapped a group of six at the crater lake of Indonesia’s second-highest volcano, he added, with about 100 army, police and other rescuers working to get people down, while helicopters scoured for those still trapped.

A villager walks through the ruins of a collapsed house during a search for the equipment of Malaysian tourists who died during the earthquake at the Sembalun Selong village in Lombok Timur, Indonesia, July 29, 2018. Antara Foto/Ahmad Subaidi/via REUTERS

A villager walks through the ruins of a collapsed house during a search for the equipment of Malaysian tourists who died during the earthquake at the Sembalun Selong village in Lombok Timur, Indonesia, July 29, 2018. Antara Foto/Ahmad Subaidi/via REUTERS

“DON’T DIE, DON’T DIE”

Trekkers typically take two days and a night to get to the crater rim of Rinjani and back down again, the national park says on itswebsite.

Buenavista, the U.S. tourist, said he was about to take some dawn photographs at the crater edge when the earthquake struck, and his immediate thought was that the volcano had erupted.

“I started running to the trail,” he told Reuters by telephone from the Gili Islands, off Lombok’s northwest coast, where he headed after a seven-hour trek to the foot of the peak.

“At one point, I saw people with half of their bodies stuck in the rocks and I just couldn’t move. I felt paralyzed and stopped moving. The guides were screaming, ‘Don’t die, don’t die.’ One of the guides had to shake me and take me by the hand. He told me

that I had to go, and that they would be okay.”

A magnitude 6.4 earthquake is considered strong and is capable of causing severe damage.

Indonesian and foreign climbers are seen after walking down from Rinjani Mountain at Sembalun village in Lombok Timur, Indonesia, July 29, 2018. Antara Foto/Ahmad Subaidi/via REUTERS

Indonesian and foreign climbers are seen after walking down from Rinjani Mountain at Sembalun village in Lombok Timur, Indonesia, July 29, 2018. Antara Foto/Ahmad Subaidi/via REUTERS

The Lombok quake struck at 6:47 a.m. (2247 GMT on Saturday) at a shallow depth of 4.35 miles (7 km) that amplified its effect. Officials said 280 aftershocks followed the initial quake.

Earthquakes are common in Indonesia, which is located on the seismically active “Ring of Fire” on the rim of the Pacific Ocean.

(Additional reporting by Fanny Potkin, Cindy Silviana, Zahra Matarani and Fransiska Nangoy; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

‘It was magical’: Thai boys relive moment of discovery by divers during cave ordeal

The 12 boys and their soccer coach who were rescued from a flooded cave arrive for a news conference in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) – The 12 boys and their soccer coach rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand recounted details of their ordeal on Wednesday, at their first public appearance, during which they waved, smiled and offered traditional “wai” greetings on a national broadcast.

Doctors, relatives and friends, some in yellow traditional garb, greeted the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, who wore T-shirts emblazoned with a red graphic of a wild boar and carried in footballs they kicked gently on the set.

“Bringing the Wild Boars Home,” read a banner in Thai that used the name of the soccer team to welcome them on the set, designed to resemble a soccer field, complete with goalposts and nets.

Coach Ekapol Chantawong introduces himself during the news conference in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Coach Ekapol Chantawong introduces himself during the news conference in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

A crowd of media and onlookers was penned behind barricades as the boys arrived in vans from the hospital where they had stayed since last week’s international effort to extricate them from a flooded cave complex in which they had been trapped.

“I told everyone fight on, don’t despair,” said one boy, describing how the group had battled to stay alive during the excruciating days spent in the cave in Thailand’s northern province of Chiang Rai.

Another, Adul Sam-on, 14, recalled the moment when two British divers found the group on July 2, squatting in a flooded chamber several kilometers within the cave complex.

“It was magical,” he said. “I had to think a lot before I could answer their questions.”

That discovery triggered the rescue effort that brought them all to safety over the course of three days, organized by Thai navy SEALs and a global team of cave-diving experts.

The order in which the boys eventually left the cave did not depend on the state of their health, said their coach Ekkapol Chantawong, whose efforts have been credited by some parents with keeping the boys alive.

“The ones whose homes are the furthest went first, so they could tell everyone that the boys were fine,” he added.

The 12 soccer players and their coach react as they explain their experience in the cave during their news conference in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

The 12 soccer players and their coach react as they explain their experience in the cave during their news conference in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

“WE ONLY DRANK WATER”

The group had planned to explore the Tham Luang cave complex for about an hour after soccer practice on June 23. But a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels, trapping them.

“We took turns digging at the cave walls,” Ekkapol said. “We didn’t want to wait around until authorities found us.”

One of the boys added, “We used stones to dig in the cave. We dug 3 to 4 meters.” That represents a depth of 3.3 to 4.4 yards.

But their efforts were to no avail, Ekkapol said, adding, “Almost everyone can swim. Some aren’t strong swimmers, however.”

The group, which had eaten before going into the caves, took no food on an excursion that had been intended to last only an hour, and had to subsist on water dripping from stalactites in the cave, he added.

“We only drank water,” said one of the boys, nicknamed Tee. “On the first day we were OK, but after two days we started feeling tired.”

The team’s youngest member, who goes by the name Titan, added, “I had no strength. I tried not to think about food so I didn’t get more hungry.”

Thoughts of their parents also preoccupied the boys, with one admitting, “I was afraid. That I wouldn’t go home and I would get scolded by my mother.”

The boys, who return home on Wednesday night, all apologized for being naughty, admitting to having told their parents only that they were going to soccer practice, but not about the plans to go into the cave.

The boys, who sported crisp haircuts, had gained 3 kg (6.6 lb) each on average since the rescue, and ran through confidence-building exercises ahead of Wednesday’s event, said hospital director Chaiwetch Thanapaisal.

The rescue effort drew global media attention and hundreds of journalists. Excitement picked up again in the usually sleepy town of Chiang Rai ahead of the much-anticipated 90-minute live broadcast on dozens of channels.

“We don’t know what wounds the kids are carrying in their hearts,” said justice ministry official Tawatchai Thaikaew, who asked for the boys’ privacy to be respected after the discharge, for fear the media attention could affect their mental health.

But the moment was bittersweet, as two of the boys held up a framed pencil sketch of Samarn Kunan, 38, the former Thai navy diver who died while he worked underwater, laying oxygen tanks along a potential exit route.

“Everyone was very sad,” said the coach, Ekkapol, adding that the boys would spend time as novice Buddhist monks to honor the diver’s memory. “They felt like they were the reason he had to die and his family had to suffer.”

(Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak, Vorasit Satienlerk, Chayut Setboonsarng, Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat in BANGKOK; Writing by Clarence Fernandez; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

Thai soccer team planned to be inside the cave for only an hour

Boys from an under-16 soccer team and their coach wait to be rescued after they were trapped inside a flooded cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 3. Thai Navy Seal Facebook/via REUTERS

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Twelve boys and their soccer coach rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand planned to explore the cavern complex for only about an hour before treacherous flood waters rose to trap them for more than two weeks, one of the boys’ fathers said.

All 12 of the boys and their 25-year-old coach were brought to safety over the course of a three-day rescue, organised by Thai navy SEALs and an international team of diving and caving experts, that ended on Tuesday.

They had gone into the Tham Luang cave in the northern province of Chiang Rai on June 23, for a quick excursion after soccer practice, when a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels.

“He told me that as soon as they finished practice they went to play at the cave. They thought they’d only be an hour,” Banpot Korncam, father of the 13-year-old captain of the “Wild Boars” team, told media.

“While they were inside the cave it rained, water flowed in and everyone took off,” Banpot said.

Two British divers found the boys on July 2, squatting on a muddy mound in a flooded chamber several kiometres inside the complex, nine days after they went for their quick jaunt.

Then the problem became how to get them back out through the tunnels, some completely full of fast-flowing flood water.

The boys, aged 11 to 16, had to dive for part of their journey out before they were put on green plastic toboggan-like stretchers and carried, at times through steep, rocky tunnels, with ropes strung overhead.

Many people in Thailand have credited the coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, or Ek as he is known, for keeping the boys safe during the ordeal.

“They just sat quietly without doing anything because it was dark,” said Banpot, recounting what his son, who is still in hospital, had told him.

“When they were hungry Coach Ek would use a flashlight to shine on the stalactites above,” he said.

‘CALCULATING, CALM’

The group survived by drinking water that dripped off the stalactites and the cave walls, rescue officials said.

Initially isolated in hospital in Chiang Rai because of fears of infection, the boys have now been allowed to meet their families. They will stay in hospital at least a week.

“The boys’ health is improving … relatives can now visit them in close proximity,” said Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, a health ministry inspector.

The rescue gripped the world, with much praise focusing on the navy SEALs and international team of divers who helped them, toiling for days in dangerous conditions to get the boys out. A former Thai navy SEAL diver died during the mission.

John Volanthen, one of the two British divers who found the boys, played down the gallantry.

“We’re not heroes,” he told the BBC after arriving back in London.

“What we do is very calculating. It’s very calm, it’s quite the opposite … But it’s really the international team I would like to focus on and the Thai SEALs.”

Volanthen was the first person the boys heard after nine days trapped in the flooded cave. A video posted by the Thai SEALs captured the moment.

“How many of you?” he asked, a torch beam scanning the boys crowded on the bank.

“Thirteen? Brilliant.”

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Thursday international members of the rescue team would be given a “Thailand Elite” card worth 500,000 baht ($15,000) with benefits including a 5-year visa in thanks.

(Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by)

Japan struggles to get help to victims of worst floods in decades

Local residents take rest at Okada elementary school acting as an evacuation center in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Issei Kato

KURASHIKI, Japan (Reuters) – Japan struggled on Tuesday to restore utilities after its worst weather disaster in 36 years killed at least 155 people, with survivors facing health risks from broiling temperatures and a lack of water, while rescuers kept up a grim search for victims.

A local resident walks in a flooded area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

A local resident walks in a flooded area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Torrential rain unleashed floods and landslides in western Japan last week, bringing death and destruction, especially to neighborhoods built decades ago near steep slopes. About 67 people are missing, the government said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has canceled an overseas trip to cope with the disaster, which at one point forced several million from their homes.

The premier faced some criticism after a photograph made the rounds on Twitter showing him and the defense minister at a dinner with lawmakers last Thursday, just as the rain was worsening.

Abe has seen his support rates rebound after slumping over a suspected cronyism scandal and is keen to prevent any declines ahead of a ruling-party leadership race in September.

Power had been restored to all but 3,500 households but more than 200,000 people remain without water under scorching sun, with temperatures hitting 33 Celsius (91 Fahrenheit) in some of the hardest-hit areas, such as the city of Kurashiki.

“There have been requests for setting up air-conditioners due to rising temperatures above 30 degrees today, and at the same time we need to restore lifelines,” Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

Employees of a supermarket push trolleys and shelves, with muddy items, at their store in a flooded area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Employees of a supermarket push trolleys and shelves, with muddy items, at their store in a flooded area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Roads caked in dried mud threw up clouds of dust when rescue vehicles or other cars drove by.

Stunned survivors recounted narrow escapes.

“It was close. If we had been five minutes later, we would not have made it,” said Yusuke Suwa, who fled by car with his wife early on Saturday when an evacuation order came after midnight.

“It was dark and we could not see clearly what was happening, although we knew water was running outside. We did not realize it was becoming such a big deal.”

A quarter of flood-prone Mabi district of Kurashiki, sandwiched between two rivers, was inundated after a levee crumbled under the force of the torrent.

The government has set aside 70 billion yen ($631 million) in infrastructure funds with 350 billion yen ($3.15 billion) in reserve, Aso said, adding that an extra budget would be considered if needed.

“When necessary amounts firm up … we would consider an extra budget later on if these funds prove insufficient.”

Japan issues weather warnings early, but its dense population means that almost every bit of usable land, including some flood plains, is built on in the mostly mountainous country, leaving it prone to disasters.

A local resident pauses as he tries to clean debris at a flood affected area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

A local resident pauses as he tries to clean debris at a flood affected area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

‘DECADES WITHOUT DISASTER’

Some residents of Mabi had shrugged off the warnings given the area’s history of floods.

“We had evacuation orders before and nothing happened, so I just thought this was going to be the same,” said Kenji Ishii, 57, who stayed at home with his wife and son.

But they were soon marooned by rising flood waters and a military boat had to pluck them from the second floor of their house, where they had taken refuge.

Hundreds of residents of Mabi were taking refuge in a school on high ground.

“Everything was destroyed and both of our cars were totaled as well,” said a woman in her forties, who was taking shelter in the gym with her brother and parents.

“We don’t know how long we’re allowed to stay here. Finding a place to live in, even if it’s temporary, is our top priority.”

Most of the deaths in hard-hit Hiroshima were from landslides in areas where homes had been built up against steep slopes, beginning in the 1970s, said Takashi Tsuchida, a civil engineering professor at Hiroshima University.

“People have been living for 40 to 50 years in an area that had latent risk, but decades went by without disaster,” he said.

“But intense rainfall has become more frequent, and the hidden vulnerability has become apparent,” he said.

Though the weather has cleared up, the disaster goes on.

A new evacuation order went out on Tuesday in a part of Hiroshima after a river blocked by debris overflowed its banks, affecting 23,000 people.

Another storm, Typhoon Maria, was bearing down on outlying islands in the Okinawa chain but it had weakened from a super-typhoon and was not expected to have any impact on Japan’s four main islands.

(Additional reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto and Linda Sieg; Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

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)