Wednesday 27 November 2013

Boat people - Haiti

There have been many sad stories about migrants in recent months – dying of thirst in the Sahara desert or drowning off the coast of Italy (see my blogs of Oct 4 and 31). In those cases, the victims were Africans, but a lot of Haitians are also desperate to leave their country, regarded as the poorest in the western hemisphere.

This week a vessel carrying migrants from Haiti capsized off the Bahamas. Up to 30 people may have been killed, and US coast guards reported 100 were clinging to the hull of the upturned boat. Rescue services have dropped food and life rafts, and a number of people have been winched up to helicopters.

In June of last year, eleven Haitians were drowned when their boat capsized also off the Bahamas, while in 2011, at least 38 died when their vessel sank off Cuba.

One of the worst incidents off recent years came in 2009 when about 70 migrants from Haiti were lost when their boat capsized off the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Friday 22 November 2013

Latvian supermarket collapse

At least 32 people have been killed after the roof of a supermarket collapsed in the Latvian capital, Riga. Three of the dead were emergency workers, and there are fears that more people could be trapped inside. It is the country’s worst disaster since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The supermarket won an architectural prize when it opened just a couple of years ago, and the cause of the collapse is unclear, though there are reports that a garden was being built on the roof. Police are investigating to see whether there have been any breaches of building regulations.

Relatives have been asked to call the mobile phone numbers of those still missing to help rescue services locate them in the rubble. Witnesses said customers tried to run out when the roof started to collapse, but that the supermarket's electronic doors closed, trapping them inside.

Probably the deadliest store collapse of all time happened in the South Korean capital, Seoul, in 1995, when the five-storey Sampoong department store collapsed, killing 501 people. A police investigation revealed that it had been built with sub-standard cement and had been inadequately reinforced. For the full story, see A Disastrous History of the World

Sunday 17 November 2013

Cambodia - justice and killing fields

Bringing alleged war criminals to justice decades after the event is never a straightforward process, and it has proved particularly difficult in Cambodia, where up to 2 million people, a quarter of the country’s population at the time, perished during Pol Pot’s 1970’s reign of terror.

Last month, the last two surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime made closing statements at their trials. ’Brother Number Two’, 87 year old Nuon Chea (pictured) and Khieu Samphan, aged 82, the regime’s head of state, both deny crimes against humanity. A verdict is expected early next year, and they are still due to face genocide charges at some future date.

Nuon Chea expressed remorse for the suffering endured by the Cambodian people, but blamed it all on subordinates. The only leader convicted so far is Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, who admitted charges against him. (see my blog of 26 July, 2010) Another defendant, Ieng Sary, died in March, while his wife was ruled unfit to continue her trial. (see my blog of 16 March)

The country’s prime minister, Hun Sen, was himself a Khmer Rouge battalion commander, and the government has often seemed less than enthusiastic about  the court, but more than 100,000 Cambodians have attended the hearings.

Friday 15 November 2013

Forgotten cyclone hits Africa

While the eyes of the world have been on Typhoon Haiyan as it devastated the Philippines (see my blog of 12 Nov), a cyclone has killed at least 140 people in the Somali region of Puntland. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed, and livestock has perished by the thousand.

The authorities say many people are still missing, and fear the death toll could reach 300. Heavy flooding has made many of the region’s dirt roads impassable, making it hard to get supplies to stricken communities.

Makeshift shelters have been built to accommodate people driven from their homes, while the government has appealed to international aid agencies to help. The Somali government has pledged $1 million.

Puntland declared itself an autonomous state in 1998 in an attempt to escape the clan warfare that has disfigured so much of Somalia, but the region has not escaped armed conflict and has been used by pirates as a base for attacks on international shipping.

·        * Another Spanish review of my book Historia mundial de los desastres

Tuesday 12 November 2013

A deadly storm and a deadly anniversary

The strongest storms are not always the deadliest. It all depends where they strike. But Typhoon Haiyan has proved both strong and deadly. It has brought winds gusting at up to 170 miles an hour, and it has killed an estimated 10,000 people.

The worst hit area appears to be city of Tacloban on Leyte island in the Philippines, and the worst damage seems to have been done by the 45 foot waves the storm generated. More than 670,000 people have been driven from their homes.

The airport at Tacloban was damaged, at first preventing aircraft arriving to deliver supplies and evacuate survivors, but now the Philippines air force is getting transport aircraft in and out. Hundreds of thousands of people did leave before the typhoon arrived, but many evacuation centres were unable to withstand the winds and storm surges.

The deadliest storm of all time was probably the cyclone that hit Bangladesh 43 years ago today, on the night of November 12, 1970. Its winds peaked at 115 miles an hour as it devastated the low-lying islands of the Bay of Bengal, killing up to a million people. For the full story see A Disastrous History of the World.

Sunday 3 November 2013

More fireworks explosions

Fireworks can be spectacular, but following last month’s explosion at a Vietnamese fireworks factory that killed more than 20 people (see my blog of Oct 28), now there's news from China that 11 have died with another 17 injured at a fireworks factory at Cenxi in the southern region of Guangxi.

Two businessmen are reported to have been arrested. Controls on China’s fireworks industry are lax, and there have been a number of deadly incidents in recent years. In 2010, 19 people were killed in a blast in the southern province of Guangdong, and a similar number in an explosion at Yichun in Heilongjiang province.

India too is plagued by firework factory accidents. A blast in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu province on Friday killed nine people. The plant made high-decibel bangers and rockets.

And last month, two children lost their lives when a stack of fireworks exploded at a house at Dalowal in Pakistan. The blast was followed by a fire, and neighbours said the roof then collapsed before they could go in to help.