Cubans begin to bury their dead from Cuba’s worst plane crash since 1989

People react during a religious ceremony where victims of the Boeing 737 plane crash were remembered at a church in Havana, Cuba, May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cubans in eastern Holguin province held a funeral on Sunday for an art instructor and her small child, the first of 67 Holguin residents to be brought home for burial out of 110 people who died Friday in Cuba’s worst plane crash since 1989.

Distressed residents gathered at a cultural center in the coastal town of Gibara to sit with the remains and console the family, photos in the official Juventud Rebelde newspaper showed, a Cuban tradition that is followed by a quick burial.

People react during a religious ceremony where victims of the Boeing 737 plane crash were remembered at a church in Havana, Cuba, May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

People react during a religious ceremony where victims of the Boeing 737 plane crash were remembered at a church in Havana, Cuba, May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

The fiery crash of an aging Boeing <BA.N> passenger jet shortly after take-off from Havana on route to Holguin has stunned the Caribbean island nation where prayers were given for the dead and three survivors at services across the country.

The survivors, all women, are in critical condition, and their progress is being closely followed by many Cubans through regular hospital updates.

“Everyone is hoping and praying for them,” said retired Havana telephone operator Marlen Rodriguez Rebasa. “Everyone is very attentive and wants them to survive. They are very young and have families.”

Sunday marked the second and last day of official mourning for the victims, which included 99 Cuban passengers, three foreign tourists – two Argentines and a Mexican – and two Sahrawi residents in Cuba. Also among the dead were six Mexican crew members of a little-known Mexican company called Damojh, that leased the nearly 40-year-old Boeing 737 to Cuban flagship carrier Cubana.

The company has come under scrutiny due to allegations of previous safety problems and complaints by former employees.

A pilot who used to work for Damojh was quoted by Mexican newspaper Milenio criticizing the company for lack of adequate maintenance of planes.

Damojh declined to comment, while Mexico’s Directorate General of Civil Aeronautics said a new audit of the company would be undertaken to ensure it was still “fulfilling norms.”

An evangelical pastor shows a picture of Ronni Pupo and Yurisel Miranda, victims of the Boeing 737 plane crash, during a religious ceremony in a church in Havana, Cuba, May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

An evangelical pastor shows a picture of Ronni Pupo and Yurisel Miranda, victims of the Boeing 737 plane crash, during a religious ceremony in a church in Havana, Cuba, May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

The charter company would be allowed to continue flying its two other planes until the survey was concluded, a spokesman for the directorate general said.

“If we conclude the physical revision and there is nothing wrong with them, no issue, they continue to fly,” he said.

Investigators kept combing the wreckage on Sunday, some 20 kilometers (11 miles) from downtown Havana, searching for a second black box containing mechanical data. The cockpit voice recorder was recovered in good condition on Saturday.

Representatives from Boeing and Mexico were expected to join the investigation into what caused the crash, Transportation Minister Adel Yzquierdo said on Saturday, a process that can take weeks or months.

In Gibara, family and friends of teacher Suyen Lizandra Figueredo Driggs and her daughter Alexa Rivas Figueredo were able to find some closure on Sunday.

However, for many relatives of the dead that will take time as identification of their loved ones remains an arduous task due to the condition of the victims’ bodies.

“Out of all these corpses, we have 20 identified so far,” Sergio Rabell, head of the National Institute of Forensic Medicine, told the local media on Sunday. He said the process could take up to a month.

(Reporting by Marc Frank in Havana; Additional Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana and Anthony Esposito in Mexico City; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

A month after PNG quake, cash-strapped government struggles to help the hardest-hit

FILE PHOTO - A supplied image shows locals inspecting a landslide and damage to a road located near the township of Tabubil after an earthquake that struck Papua New Guinea's Southern Highlands, February 26, 2018

By Tom Westbrook

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Almost a month after a deadly earthquake, Papua New Guinea is struggling to get aid to desperate survivors, having allocated just a fraction of its relief funds, while a rent dispute left disaster officials briefly locked out of their offices.

The scale of the emergency is testing the finances and capacity of one of the world’s poorest countries, disaster and relief officials say, after the magnitude 7.5 quake rocked its remote mountainous highlands on Feb. 26, killing 100 people.

Thousands of survivors have walked to remote airstrips and jungle clearings, awaiting helicopters bringing supplies of food, water and medicines, aid agencies and authorities say.

“To date, we do not have any money to do all the necessary things,” Tom Edabe, the disaster coordinator for the hardest-hit province of Hela, said by telephone from Tari, its capital.

“(The) government is trying to assist and have budgeted some money, but to date we have not received anything…we have only been given food, and non-food items supplied by other NGOs.”

Continuing aftershocks rattle residents, who have to collect water brought by daily rainstorms to ensure adequate supplies, Edabe, the disaster coordinator, said.

“The biggest thing that people need, apart from food, is water,” said James Pima, a helicopter pilot and flight manager at aviation firm HeliSolutions in the Western Highlands capital of Mt. Hagen, about 170 km (100 miles) from the disaster zone.

“They don’t have clean water to cook or drink … they are standing there staring. The expression on their faces is blank.”

His firm’s three helicopters fly relief missions “fully flat-out every day,” Pima added.

Destruction to roads and runways means authorities must rely on helicopters to fly in relief. But while nimble, the craft can only carry smaller loads than fixed-wing aircraft and cannot fly during the afternoon thunderstorms.

The logistics problems wind all the way to PNG’s disaster center, where officials told Reuters they had been locked out of their office in Port Moresby, the capital, for two days last week after the government missed a rental payment.

“That was correct, Monday and Tuesday,” a spokeswoman said.

In a joint report with the United Nations published on Friday, the agency cited “lack of quality data” about food shortages, limited aircraft assets and “significant gaps” in sanitation support as being the biggest problems it faced.

The office of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill did not respond to emailed questions from Reuters.

On his website, O’Neill has previously said, “There will be no quick fix, the damage from this disaster will take months and years to be repaired.”

‘POLITICAL GAMES’

The government had approved relief funds amounting to 450 million kina ($130 million), O’Neill said initially, but a later statement mentioned only 3 million kina in initial relief – or less than 1 percent – had been allocated to the worst-hit areas.

In its November budget, the government made plans to rein in spending and trim debt projected to stand at 25.8 billion kina in 2018.

The impoverished country is also missing its largest revenue earner, after the quake forced a shutdown of Exxon Mobil Corp’s liquefied natural gas project, which has annual sales of $3 billion at current LNG prices. The firm is still assessing quake damage at its facilities.

O’Neill last week hit out at critics of the aid effort for playing “political games,” while thanking Australia and New Zealand for military aircraft that provided assistance beyond the capacity of PNG’s own defense forces.

His political opponent, former Prime Minister Mekere Morauta, had called the government’s response “tardy” and inadequate.

“Relief sources say mobile medical centers and operating theaters are needed urgently, and that only international partners can supply them,” Morauta said last week.

Foreign aid pledges of about $49 million have come in from Australia, China, the European Union, Japan, New Zealand and the United States, says the United Nations, most of it provided by private companies.

Exxon and its partner, Oil Search Ltd, say they have provided $6 million in cash and kind for quake relief.

Local officials say the scale of destruction, with villages buried by landslides and provincial towns flattened, has overwhelmed authorities in Papua New Guinea, which straddles the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire.

“Policemen are still struggling because there is no support flying in and out,” said Naring Bongi of the quake-damaged police station in the Southern Highlands capital of Mendi.

“There is not enough food to supply care centers, they need fresh water,” he added.

 

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

White roses, hundreds of police as Florida shooting school reopens

Students and parents arrive for voluntary campus orientation at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, for the coming Wednesday's reopening, following last week's mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Angel Valentin

By Bernie Woodall

PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – Students returned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, bearing white roses and wearing white ribbons to commemorate the 17 people killed there two weeks ago in the second deadliest public school shooting in U.S. history.

The mood was subdued as roughly 3,000 teenagers walked past hundreds of uniformed police officers to resume classes at the school in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Parkland. The building where most of the victims died will remain closed indefinitely, however.

Parents who had never accompanied their children to high school tagged along with their teens to offer moral support. Jeannine Gittens, 44, and a friend and fellow mother, had gone ahead of their sons to greet them as they came off the bus.

“We just wanted to make sure they know we are there and that they have our support,” said Gittens, who said her son Jevon, 16, and his friend had ridden the bus alone “because they wanted to make today feel as normal as possible.”

Freshman Nicholas Rodrigues, 15, said he decided to walk the mile (1.6 km) from his home in neighboring Coral Springs rather than ride his bicycle as usual because “wanted to think about things.”

Even as students went into the sprawling Douglas campus, supporters remained gathered outside.

“We feel for these kids so much,” said Beverly Turner, a 63-year-old youth pastor, who said she had two children who graduated from the school. “We’ve seen them grow up and us being there for them is the least we can do.”

Investigators have accused 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who had been kicked out of the school for disciplinary reasons, of carrying out his attack with a legally purchased AR-15 assault-style rifle. The shooting inflamed the nation’s long-running debate on gun rights as defined in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Debates over how to respond to the school shootings has seen in recent years erupted in Washington and at state capitals since the Feb. 14 massacre. They also pulled in corporate America, with gun retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc on Wednesday saying it would no longer sell assault-style rifles, the type of weapon used in four of the five deadliest mass shootings by a single gunman in U.S. history, as well as Parkland.

Well-wishers place mementos the day students and parents arrive for voluntary campus orientation at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, for the coming Wednesday's reopening, following last week's mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. REUTERS/Angel Valentin

Well-wishers place mementos the day students and parents arrive for voluntary campus orientation at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, for the coming Wednesday’s reopening, following last week’s mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. REUTERS/Angel Valentin

EYES ON WASHINGTON

The Republican leaders of the U.S. Congress on Tuesday rejected new limits on guns after the attack, saying they would not raise the minimum age for gun buyers. The powerful National Rifle Association lobbied forcefully against any restrictions on gun sales, saying the infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens.

President Donald Trump has suggested arming teachers, as well as reopening mental hospitals, as a way of combating school violence. Trump is scheduled to meet with lawmakers from both parties at the White House later on Wednesday to discuss proposals.

Teenage survivors of the carnage have launched an extraordinary student-led campaign to lobby lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the statehouse in Tallahassee for new restrictions on firearms.

Following the shooting, several large American companies said they were ending programs that offered discounts or other benefits to NRA members. Some have faced blowback, particularly in Georgia where a lawmaker said he would try to kill lucrative tax benefits at Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines after it cut ties with the group.

Nonetheless, retailer Dick’s on Wednesday said it was taking action, including banning sales of guns at its stores to anyone under 21 and no longer selling high-capacity ammunition magazines. The company noted that it had sold a firearm to Cruz, although not the one used in the rampage.

“We have to help solve the problem that’s in front of us,” the company’s chief executive, Edward Stack, said in a statement. “Gun violence is an epidemic that’s taking the lives of too many people, including the brightest hope for the future of America – our kids.”

Dick’s had also removed assault-style weapons from its stories after the 2012 massacre of 26 children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, but later returned them to the sales floor.

Cruz was 18 when he bought the gun he is accused of using to attack the school. A Florida court on Wednesday scheduled a hearing to determine whether he has the assets to pay for his own defense.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have faced criticism that they failed to properly follow through on multiple tips warning that Cruz had the potential and capacity for deadly violence.

Sheriff Scott Israel has come under heavy criticism after disclosing that one of his armed deputies, assigned as the school resource officer, stayed outside of the building while it was under attack rather than enter and confront the gunman. The deputy has said he believed the gunman was outside.

The sheriff has acknowledged his office is examining reports from a neighboring police department that three more deputies who were present took cover outside the building with guns drawn rather than go into the school immediately.

(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Bill Trott)

Search for survivors of devastating California mudslide enters third day

Damaged properties are seen after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. January 11, 2018.

By Alex Dobuzinskis

MONTECITO, Calif. (Reuters) – The search for survivors from a devastating Southern California mudslide that has killed at least 17 people moved into its third day on Friday, with some 700 rescue workers expecting to find more dead victims.

Triggered by heavy rains, the massive slide struck before dawn on Tuesday, when a wall of mud and debris cascaded down hillsides that were denuded last month by wildfires, including the Thomas Fire, the largest blaze in the state’s history.

“Realistically we suspect we are going to have the discovery of more people killed in this incident,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said at a Thursday news briefing, adding that he was hoping to find “miracle” survivors.

Brown said 43 people remain missing, although some may just be out of communication.

In one of the hardest hit areas, the affluent seaside community of Montecito, the devastation wrought by the slide and the gruesome undertaking faced by emergency crews was evident.

Neighborhoods were littered with uprooted trees and downed power lines, and front yards in homes filled with mud were strewn with boulders.

Elsewhere, cars carried away by the flow were perched on mounds of earth and mangled garage doors crushed by the mud rested at odd angles.

The cause of death for all 17 victims who perished will be listed as multiple traumatic injuries due to flash flood with mudslides, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s office said in a statement on Thursday.

The dead victims range in age from three to 89.

Josephine Gower, 69, died when she opened the door to her home, her son, Hayden Gower, told NBC station KSBY. Her daughter-in-law Sarah Gower confirmed Gower’s death in a Facebook post. Her body was found that night, near a highway hit by the slide.

“I told her to stay on the second floor, but she went downstairs and opened the door and just got swept away,” Hayden Gower said. “I should have just told her to leave. You just don’t even think that this is possible.”

The sheriff’s office also expanded the evacuation zone in the Montecito area on Thursday, as traffic on the already-clogged roads is hindering efforts by rescue and repair crews to access the devastation.

Rescue workers in helicopters and high-wheeled military vehicles, some with search dogs, were deployed in the hunt for the missing in a disaster zone littered with the remnants of hundreds of damaged or destroyed homes.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) granted a request on Thursday by Governor Jerry Brown for expanded financial aid that was first allocated for the Thomas Fire, the governor’s office said in a statement.

“This declaration ensures that federal funds are available for emergency response and eligible disaster recovery costs,” the governor’s statement said.

(Additional reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver, Chris Kenning in Chicago, Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Mexico in three-day countdown to search for earthquake survivors

Rescue teams remove rubble of a collapsed building after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

By Daniel Trotta

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Rescuers are unlikely to find any more survivors of Mexico’s earthquake still buried in the ruins and will cease operations to find them at the end of Thursday, the emergency services chief said.

Tuesday marks one week since the 7.1 magnitude quake struck around lunchtime, killing 331 people, damaging 11,000 homes and leading to a outpouring of civilian volunteers to aid and comfort the victims.

Luis Felipe Puente, coordinator of Mexico’s Civil Protection agency, told Reuters that rescuers would continue hand-picking through the debris at four sites until Thursday.

“I can say that at this time it would be unlikely to find someone alive,” Puente said, considering that specially trained dogs have yet to pick up the scent of survivors.

Forty-three people were still missing, including 40 who may have been trapped beneath a collapsed office building in the Roma district of Mexico City, Puente said. One person was believed missing at each of three other sites in the capital.

At the office building, relatives protested overnight, increasingly angry with the slow progress recovering their loved ones and an alleged lack of information.

Asked how much longer search and rescue operations would continue, the official responded, “As of today (Monday), we have agreed to another 72 hours.”

The week began with signs that Mexico was resuming its routine as the streets filled with traffic and more than 44,000 schools in six states reopened.

But in the capital city, only 676 of the more than 8,000 public and private schools resumed classes.

The quake, coming exactly 32 years after a 1985 earthquake killed some 10,000 people, delivered a massive psychological blow that specialists say will take time to overcome.

“The children are in crisis and don’t want to talk. Some kids didn’t even remember their own names,” said Enriqueta Ortuno, 57, a psychotherapist who has been working with victims in the hard-hit Xochimilco district.

Much of the nation’s attention was focused on a fallen school in Mexico City where 19 children and seven adults died. Later on Tuesday, the top official in the municipality where the school was located was due to reveal documents related to the its construction.

That school was one of many buildings that prosecutors will investigate, Puente said. Roughly 10 percent of damaged buildings were constructed after strict building codes were enacted in the wake of the 1985 earthquake.

“The Mexico City mayor and the national government have already ordered judicial investigations to determine who was responsible for new construction that did not meet the requirements,” Puente said from Civil Protection headquarters, where a roomful of technicians monitored seismic activity and tropical storms on an array of screens.

In Mexico City, 187 people died in 38 buildings that collapsed. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said thousands of families who lost their homes in uninhabitable buildings would be offered 3,000 ($170) pesos monthly in temporary rent assistance.

Rescuers pulled 69 people from quake-damaged properties, of whom 37 were still in the hospital as of Monday, 11 of them in grave condition, Puente said.

Demolitions of buildings that are beyond repair could begin as soon as Tuesday, he said.

Responders from 18 countries came to Mexico to help, but with the search for survivors down to four sites most of them had gone home, with Americans and Israelis among the few to remain, Puente said. The Japanese contingent left on Monday.

International aid was now focused on humanitarian needs, Puente said, with China providing large numbers of beds, tents and kitchen and bathroom fixtures for temporary shelters for the homeless.

But the biggest contributions came from Mexicans themselves, who responded with so much food, supplies and volunteer work that officials had difficulty moving largesse from wealthy and accessible neighborhoods to the most needy.

Puente recognized some “deficiencies” in coordinating relief efforts, but overall, he said, “The government today is an international benchmark.”

(Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Bill Trott)

Most schools in Mexico City still closed after earthquake

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

By Lizbeth Diaz and Ana Isabel Martinez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SEARCH FOR SURVIVORS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Mexico races to save 12-year-old girl as quake toll hits 237

Rescue workers and Mexican soldiers take part in a rescue operation at a collapsed building after an earthquake at the Obrera neighborhood in Mexico City, Mexico September 20, 2017.

By Daniel Trotta and Adriana Barrera

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Rescuers labored against the odds as dawn broke on Thursday to save a 12-year-old schoolgirl and other possible survivors trapped beneath crumpled buildings in central Mexico following the country’s deadliest earthquake in 32 years.

More than 50 survivors have been plucked from several disaster sites in Mexico City since Tuesday afternoon’s 7.1-magnitude quake, leading to impassioned choruses of “Yes we can!” from the first responders, volunteers and spectators gathered around the ruins.

At least 237 others have died and 1,900 were injured.

As the chance of survival diminished with each passing hour, officials vowed to continue with search-and-rescue efforts such as the one at a collapsed school in the south of the capital. At the site, Navy-led rescuers have communicated with the 12-year-old girl, but were still unable to dig her free.

Eleven other children were rescued from the Enrique Rebsamen School, where students are aged roughly six to 15. Twenty-one children and four adults there were killed.

Rescuers had earlier seen a hand protruding from the debris and the girl wiggled her fingers when asked if she was still alive, according to broadcaster Televisa, whose cameras had special access to the scene to provide nonstop live coverage.

But some 15 hours into the effort, Admiral Jose Luis Vergara said rescuers could not pinpoint the location of the girl, identified only as Frida Sofia.

“There’s a girl alive in there, we’re pretty sure of that, but we still don’t know how to get to her,” Vergara told Televisa.

“The hours that have passed complicate the chances of finding alive or in good health the person who might be trapped,” he said.

 

RESCUE EFFORT

As Vergara spoke, a human chain of hard-hatted rescuers removed a large chunk of concrete from the floodlit scene.

Rescuers periodically demanded silence from bystanders to allow them to hear any calls for help.

As with other disaster sites throughout central Mexico, officials have not employed heavy-lifting equipment for fear of crushing survivors. Some 52 buildings collapsed in Mexico City alone and more in the surrounding states.

Throughout the capital, crews were joined by volunteers and bystanders who used dogs, cameras, motion detectors and heat-seeking equipment to detect victims who may still be alive.

Thousands of people have donated food, water, medicine, blankets and other basic items to help relief efforts. Companies provided free services and restaurants delivered food to shelters where thousands of people have sought refuge after their homes were damaged.

“Faced with the force of nature, we are all vulnerable and that is why we all unite when it comes to saving a life or helping a victim,” said President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has declared three days of national mourning. “If anything distinguishes Mexicans, it is our generosity and fraternity.”

Pena Nieto said the priority was to reestablish basic services, conduct a census of damaged structures and rebuild.

The extensive damage to many buildings, some of them relatively new, has raised questions over construction standards that were supposed to have improved in the wake of a devastating 1985 quake.

Members of a rescue team hold a fellow rescuer from the Topos volunteer search and rescue group by his feet during the search for students at the Enrique Rebsamen school after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico, September 21, 2017.

Members of a rescue team hold a fellow rescuer from the Topos volunteer search and rescue group by his feet during the search for students at the Enrique Rebsamen school after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico, September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

AID ARRIVES

The quake killed 102 people in Mexico City and the remaining 135 from five surrounding states, officials said on Wednesday.

At least nine Latin American countries pledged search-and-rescue teams or technical assistance, as did the United States, Spain, Japan and Israel, and crews from Panama and El Salvador were already on the job.

The Panamanian team of 32 rescue workers dressed in orange jumpsuits and helmets and two dogs arrived with seven days’ worth of food, water and supplies and prepared to work around the clock, said Cesar Lange, leader of the Panamanian Civil Protection unit.

Leading the volunteer rescue efforts were Mexico City’s own ‘mole’ rescue workers, a search group formed in the wake of the 1985 quake and renowned for their fearless tunneling into damaged buildings to save survivors in disasters around the globe.

Tuesday’s temblor came on the anniversary of the 1985 quake that killed thousands and still resonates in Mexico. Annual Sept. 19 earthquake drills were being held a few hours before the nation got rocked once again.

The quake struck around 150 km (90 miles) southeast of Mexico City on Tuesday afternoon, shattering glass, shearing off the sides of buildings and leaving others in dusty piles of destruction.

Its epicenter was a mere 31 km (32 miles) beneath the surface, sending major shockwaves through the metropolitan area of some 20 million people. Much of the capital is built on an ancient lake bed that trembles like jelly during a quake.

People accompany caskets, holding the bodies of victims who died in an earthquake, through the streets in Atzala, on the outskirts of Puebla, Mexico September 20, 2017.

People accompany caskets, holding the bodies of victims who died in an earthquake, through the streets in Atzala, on the outskirts of Puebla, Mexico September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Imelda Medina

Some residents and volunteers voiced anger that emergency services and military were slow to arrive to poorer southern neighborhoods of the city, and that wealthier districts appeared prioritized.

Mexico was still recovering from another powerful quake less than two weeks ago that killed nearly 100 people in the south of the country.

Both Mexican earthquakes occurred along the Cocos tectonic plate, which skirts the western coast of Mexico and is slowly sliding beneath the North American plate.

 

 

 

(Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Bernadette Baum)

 

Morningside and The Jim Bakker Show Sending Team to Texas

Jim and Lori Bakker ready to leave for the Houston area to bring food, comfort and prayer to those needing our help September 4, 2017

By Kami Klein

Pastor Jim and Lori Bakker left today for the Houston area to help local churches struggling to keep up with the needs from the disaster left behind from Hurricane Harvey.  Jim and Lori, along with The Jim Bakker Show team will be there to feed, comfort and pray with those who have lost so much and are struggling to rebuild.  They will witness with you scenes that are left from this devastating storm, and share with you the stories of heroism, courage and the humanity of the people that have been affected by this tragic event.

Yesterday, a truck loaded full with pallets of food buckets, water purification products, Bibles and other survival supplies left Morningside bound for Houston.  In an email from Pastor Jim he wrote,

 

“Never before have you been “the hands and feet of Jesus” as much as this moment.  Because you have been prepared and have prepared to share with others, we are able to make this trip possible.  

We appreciate all you do for this Ministry and for allowing us to represent you to thousands of hurting people in need. We could not be doing this without you.

Please continue to pray for us in our journey.  Pray for those still in harm’s way. And, most importantly, continue to pray that each one will experience the love of Jesus through us to His glory. ”

 

We will be sharing what is happening in Houston directly from our team as they work alongside these true survivors that have shown the world what being a Christian and an American is all about. Please keep them in your prayers!  

Morningside and The Jim Bakker Show team ready to leave for Houston.

Morningside and The Jim Bakker Show team ready to leave for Houston.

We are now asking for your help by donating funds towards supporting and helping in areas where there is the greatest need.

The people of Houston and the gulf coast are only at the beginning of an incredibly daunting challenge as they rebuild their lives.  Now is the time to remember that we are all part of God’s family.

Now is the time for compassion!  Now is the time to act!

 Follow this link to our slideshow that will be updated throughout our team’s time in Texas!  

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Texas crews search for survivors in wake of Harvey’s floods

A Marine Corp vehicle patrols a flooded street as a result of Tropical Storm Harvey in Port Arthur, Texas, U.S., August 31, 2017.

By Emily Flitter and Andy Sullivan

PORT ARTHUR, Texas/HOUSTON (Reuters) – A week after Hurricane Harvey came ashore in Texas, rescuers kept up a marathon search for survivors on Friday as large pockets of land remained under water after one of the costliest natural disasters to hit the United States.

The storm has displaced more than 1 million people with 44 feared dead from flooding that paralyzed Houston, swelled river levels to record highs and knocked out the drinking water supply in Beaumont, Texas, a city of about 120,000 people.

Chemicals maker Arkema SA and public health officials warned of the risk of more explosions and fires at a plant owned by the company. On Thursday blasts rocked the facility, about 25 miles east of Houston and zoned off inside a 1.5-mile (2.4-km) exclusion zone, after it was engulfed by floodwater.

With the presence of water-borne contaminants a growing concern, the National Weather Service issued flood watches from Arkansas into Ohio on Friday as the remnants of the storm made their way through the U.S. heartland.

The Neches River, which flows into Beaumont and nearby Port Arthur, was forecast for a record crest from Friday well above flood levels. The flooding and loss of drinking water forced the evacuation of a hospital on Thursday.

Two of the last people remaining in their flooded home near the river, Kent Kirk, 58, and Hersey Kirk, 59, were pulled to safety late Thursday.

“They were the last holdouts, the last house,” said Dennis Landy, a neighbor who had spent the day in his airboat ferrying people from a small, remote group of houses near Rose City, Texas, close to the Neches’ banks, to safety.

It took an hour of coaxing by a rescuer but Hersey Kirk finally let herself be carried from her wheelchair to the airboat and then to a Utah Air National Guard helicopter.

“I’m losing everything again,” she said. “We got flooded in Ike, in Rita. My husband just got a new car – well it was new to him anyway. It’s sitting in 5 feet of water.”

Harvey roared ashore late last Friday as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in half a century. It dumped unprecedented quantities of rain and left devastation across more than 300 miles (482 km) in the southeast corner of the state.

 

COST OF UP TO $75 BILLION

Moody’s Analytics estimated the economic cost from Harvey for southeastern Texas at $51 billion to $75 billion, ranking it among the costliest storms in U.S. history. Much of the damage has been to Houston, the U.S. energy hub.

At least 44 people were dead or feared dead in six counties including and around Houston, officials said. Another 19 remained missing.

Some 779,000 Texans have been told to leave their homes and another 980,000 fled voluntarily amid dangers of new flooding from swollen rivers and reservoirs, according to federal estimates.

Tens of thousands crowded in evacuation centers across the region.

Evacuees affected by Tropical Storm Harvey take shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, Texas, U.S.  August 31, 2017

Evacuees affected by Tropical Storm Harvey take shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

A new hurricane, Irma, had strengthened into a Category 3 storm, the midpoint of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, on Friday. It remained hundreds of miles from land but was forecast to possibly hit the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and neighboring Haiti by the middle of next week.

Seventy percent of Harris County, which encompasses Houston and has a population of about 4.6 million people, was covered with 18 inches (45 cm) or more of water, county officials said.

As signs of normal life returned to Houston, the nation’s fourth most populous city, there were concerns about health risks from bacteria and pollutants in floodwater.

The Houston Astros baseball team, forced to play away from the city due to the floods, will return and play at its home field on Saturday. It has invited shelter residents to attend its double header against the New York Mets, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on his Twitter feed.

Flooding has shut some of the nation’s largest oil refineries and hit U.S. energy infrastructure, which is centered along the Gulf Coast. It has sent gasoline prices climbing and disrupted global fuel supplies. [O/R]

The national average for a regular gallon of gasoline rose to $2.519 as of Friday morning, the highest since August 2015, up 17 cents since before the storm hit, according to motorists advocacy group AAA.

The storm knocked out about a quarter of U.S. oil refining capacity and the signs of restarts were tentative.

In major Texas cities including Dallas, there were long lines at gas stations, prompting state regulators to tell people they were sparking a panic and saying there were ample fuel supplies.

Power outages had decreased from peaks of over 300,000 to about 160,000 homes and business in Texas and Louisiana as of Friday morning, data from utilities showed.

 

(Additional reporting by Richard Valdmanis, Marianna Parraga, Ernest Scheyder, Ruthy Munoz, Peter Henderson and Andy Sullivan in Houston, David Gaffen in New York, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Scott Malone Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott)

 

Search for survivors in Texas as storm Harvey heads north

Search for survivors in Texas as storm Harvey heads north

By Emily Flitter and Richard Valdmanis

LAKE CHARLES, La./HOUSTON (Reuters) – The remnants of Tropical Storm Harvey drenched northern Louisiana on Thursday as it moved inland, leaving rescuers to search homes around Houston and in the hard-hit southeastern Texas coast for more survivors or victims.

The storm killed at least 35 people and the death toll was rising as bodies were found in receding waters. Some 32,000 people were forced into shelters around the U.S. energy hub of Houston since Harvey came ashore on Friday as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in a half-century.

Storm-related power outages prompted two explosions at a flood-hit Arkema SA chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Houston, with one sheriff’s deputy sent to the hospital after inhaling toxic chemicals.

“The plume is incredibly dangerous,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said at a news briefing.

A 1.5-mile (2.4 km) radius around the plant had been evacuated and the company urged people to stay away from the area, warning further blasts were likely.

By Thursday, Harvey was downgraded to a tropical depression, located about 15 miles (24 km) south of Monroe, Louisiana. The storm’s rains wrought the most damage along the Gulf Coast and the National Weather Service warned as much as 10 inches (25.4 cm) could fall in Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Rivers and reservoirs in Texas remained at or near flood level, with officials warning that high water would remain a danger in the region for the next few days.

Federal officials also had already rescued 10,000 people from flooded homes and would continue to search, Brock said.

The Houston Fire Department will begin a block-by-block effort on Thursday to rescue stranded survivors and recover bodies, Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mann told reporters.

Search for survivors in Texas as storm Harvey heads north

Houses are seen submerged in flood waters caused by Tropical Storm Harvey in Northwest Houston, Texas, U.S. August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

CAJUN NAVY ON THE MOVE

Nine members of the ad-hoc “Cajun Navy” towing boats behind pickup trucks gathered in Lake Charles early on Thursday, deliberating whether they could safely get in to badly flooded parts of coastal southeastern Texas, including Orange, Port Arthur and Beaumont.

“You can’t get anywhere by vehicle,” said Troy Payne, 56, who had driven in from Atlanta. “To me, this is a helicopter function from here on out unless the water level falls.”

Payne said he planned to drive north to try to find another way into Texas.

Nearly 30 inches (76.2 cm) of rain hit the Port Arthur area.

Beaumont said it had lost its water supply due to flood damage to its main pumping station.

Fort Bend County ordered a mandatory evacuation on Thursday for areas near the Barker Reservoir, which was threatening to flood. The reservoir is about 20 miles (32 km) west of Houston.

Clear skies in Houston on Wednesday brought relief to the energy hub and fourth-largest U.S. city after five days of catastrophic downpours. The first flight out of Houston since the storm hit boarded on Wednesday evening.

Police in Houston’s Harris County said 17 people remained missing.

Some 325,000 people and businesses already had applied for FEMA assistance and the agency already has paid out $57 million in aid, Brock said.

Anita Williams, 52, was among dozens of people lined up Thursday morning at a shelter at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center to register for FEMA aid. She said she had been able to get to her neighborhood on Wednesday to survey the damage to her one-story house as the flood waters receded.

“It’s not my house anymore. My deep freezer was in my living room,” she said, her voice breaking.

Williams said she had been trapped by the storm on the Houston Ship Channel bridge overnight on Saturday in her Toyota Camry before she was rescued Sunday by a man in a large truck. Her fiancé, a disabled man, had to be rescued from their house as waters rose to chest level and joined her.

“I just thank God they were able to get to him,” Williams said.

David Michaelis holds his 3-year-old grandson Teddy as he wades through flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Orange, Texas, U.S., August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

David Michaelis holds his 3-year-old grandson Teddy as he wades through flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Orange, Texas, U.S., August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

ENERGY PRODUCTION DISRUPTED

Flooding shut the nation’s largest oil refinery in Port Arthur in the latest hit to U.S. energy infrastructure that has sent gasoline prices climbing and disrupted global fuel supplies. [O/R]

The storm prompted the U.S. Energy Department to authorize the first emergency release of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve since 2012. Some 500,000 barrels of oil will be delivered to a Phillips 66 refinery in Louisiana unaffected by the storm, an Energy Department spokeswoman said in a statement.

Average U.S. retail gasoline prices have surged to $2.449 per gallon nationwide in the storm’s wake, up 10.1 cents from a week ago, the AAA said on Thursday.

Moody’s Analytics is estimating the economic cost from Harvey for southeast Texas at $51 billion to $75 billion, ranking it among the costliest storms in U.S. history.

At least $23 billion worth of property has been affected by flooding from Harvey just in parts of Texas’ Harris and Galveston counties, a Reuters analysis of satellite imagery and property data showed.

Governor Greg Abbott warned that floodwaters would linger for up to a week. The area affected is larger than that hit by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people in New Orleans, and 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, which killed 132 around New York and New Jersey, he said.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and several Cabinet secretaries will travel to Texas on Thursday to meet residents affected by the storm.

For a graphic on storms in the North Atlantic, click: http://tmsnrt.rs/2gcckz5

A dog is rescued from the flood waters in Beaumont Place.

A dog is rescued from the flood waters in Beaumont Place.
REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Two rescuers from U.S. Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 7 are lowered to a house after Tropical Storm Harvey flooded a neighborhood in Beaumont, Texas, U.S. in a still image from video August 30, 2017. U.S. Navy/Petty Officer 1st Class Ernest Scott/Handout via REUTERS

Two rescuers from U.S. Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 7 are lowered to a house after Tropical Storm Harvey flooded a neighborhood in Beaumont, Texas, U.S. in a still image from video August 30, 2017. U.S. Navy/Petty Officer 1st Class Ernest Scott/Handout via REUTERS

(Additional reporting by Richard Valdmanis, Mica Rosenberg, Marianna Parraga, Gary McWilliams, Ernest Scheyder, Erwin Seba, Ruthy Munoz, Peter Henderson and Andy Sullivan in Houston, David Gaffen and Christine Prentice in New York, Susan Heavey in Washington, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Scott Malone and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Bill Trott)