Monday 31 August 2015

Taiwan typhoon

Managed to dodge Typhoon Goni while I was in Taiwan, though for a few days, it looked as thought it might hit the island. The Philippines were less fortunate, and there the typhoon killed at least 27 people, while in Japan, one man died after he fell from a fishing boat.

The storm passed within about 100 miles of the island, but we got away with nothing worse than very heavy rain. While I was in Taiwan I did see some of the damage from Typhoon Soudelor, which hit the island on August 7.

The picture above shows a landslide at the Taroko Gorge, where almost all of the trails had been closed because of the effects of the storm. At least 8 people were killed in Taiwan, with another 30 across China and Japan.

Taiwan's deadliest ever typhoon was Marokot, which struck the island on 7 August 2009, killing 461 people and doing damage estimated at more than $3 billion. 

Friday 28 August 2015

Earthquake museum, Taiwan

Just back from Taiwan where I visited the fascinating, disturbing 921 Earthquake Museum. The museum is built around the remains of Kuang-Fu Junior High School in Wufeng, where buildings collapsed and sports fields buckled, when the 7.3 force quake struck on September 21, 1999.

Fortunately, it was at about a quarter to two in the morning, so there were no pupils in the school, but across the island the disaster killed more than 2,400 people, and destroyed more than 50,000 homes.

The museum is designed to ensure the tragedy is not forgotten, and to help stimulate research on earthquakes and on disaster relief, and more than a million people have visited it since it opened in 2004. One room with a shaking floor simulates the terrifying experience of being caught in a quake.

The deadliest earthquake in Taiwan's history is believed to be the one that hit the Hsinchu and Taichung areas on 21 April, 1935, killing more than 3,270 people.

Thursday 27 August 2015

London's deadliest fire since the Blitz - another story

On July 19, I blogged about a story in the Express on the Denmark Place fire of 16 August 1980 - an arson attack that killed 37 people  - in which I was quoted.

Now I am also quoted in a story the Independent has written about the blaze -

For a long time, the crime was largely ignored by the media, so as it passes its 35th anniversary, it is good to see that being rectified, and Simon Usborne has done a really good job, turning up a lot of material I have not seen before.

Sunday 9 August 2015

Nagasaki + 70: Kokura's luck

70 years ago today, Nagasaki was hit in the world's second atomic bomb attack, and the phrase 'Kokura's luck' entered the Japanese language. The city of Kokura was the target for the attack, but when the American B-29 bomber reached it, it was shrouded in haze.

So the aircraft flew on another 90 miles to Nagasaki, and, finding a gap in the clouds, dropped 'Fat Man' - a more powerful bomb than the one used on Hiroshima. Thanks to better air raid precautions and because the bomb was detonated about two miles from its intended point, it caused fewer casualties, though it still killed about 40,000. 

Nagasaki was a centre for Roman Catholicism in Japan, and a revered Catholic priest, Takashi Nagai pointed to the great hole gouged out by the bomb, and said the Japanese themselves were to blame for it: 'We dug it to the rhythm of military marches.'

Over the years that followed, perhaps 80,000 died from the bomb's longer term effects. For a long time, many of the sick and injured received no government support, and even when that was put right, 10,000 Korean victims had to wait another 11 years before they got help, and even then on very restrictive terms.

For more on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, see A Disastrous History of the World.

Thursday 6 August 2015

Hiroshima + 70, and a classic piece of journalism

I went to Hiroshima in 1992. It was a bizarre experience to be able to stand at the epicentre of the atomic bomb explosion of August 6, 1945, and to see the remains of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, now know as the A-bomb dome. Perhaps even more bizarrely the nearby pedestrian traffic lights played 'Coming Through the Rye' when it was time to cross the road.

One of the first real accounts of the effects of the bomb came in a classic piece of journalism by the American writer, John Hersey, who visited the city in May 1946, and interviewed survivors for his book, Hiroshima.

In measured, factual tones, he tells the story of the Methodist pastor, who was sitting in his friend's garden when he saw a blinding flash across the sky. He dived for cover as debris fell from the sky, and when he looked up, the house had disappeared, and day had turned to night.

Hersey tells how almost all Hiroshima's doctors and nurses were killed or injured, and how at the Red Cross hospital there was just one doctor left as an endless stream of badly burned casualties began to stream in. These are just a couple of the vivid human stories in a slim but compelling volume. You can read it in a couple of hours but you will remember it for a lifetime.

Sunday 2 August 2015

China's coal mines - getting less dangerous

For a long time China has had the unenviable record of running the world's most dangerous coal mines, but at least things are not as bad as they used to be. Last year the total number of miners killed fell below 1,000 for the first time. 931 is still a lot, but it is many fewer than the 7,000 recorded in 2002.

China produces about half of the worlds's coal, and the director of the State Administration of Work Safety acknowledged it still faces 'grave and complicated challenges in coal mine work safety.'  

Safety campaigns and better monitoring of methane gas have played their part in reducing the death toll, though perhaps the most important factor has been the closing of small mines which often had the worst records.

But there is concern that the number of casualties may be under-reported. Any accident that kills more than 30 miners automatically becomes the subject of a government inquiry. Last year, 14 managers and officials in Jilin province were gaoled for concealing the deaths of 8 miners so that the death toll in an accident in 2013 appeared to be 28 not 36.

See also my posts of Feb 22, March 10 and 19 Nov, 2009, and 16 Jan and 14 April, 2010.