News & Current Affairs

December 25, 2008

Eight killed in Ukraine explosion

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 7:30 am

Eight killed in Ukraine explosion

Rescuers carry a man from a destroyed apartment building after a gas blast in the  Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk in 13 October 2007

A gas explosion in Dnipropetrovsk last year caused many casualties

Rescue teams are working in the rubble of an apartment building in southern Ukraine, where an explosion has killed at least eight people.

Local officials in Yevpatoria, in Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, say as many as 30 other people may have been buried under the debris.

Two entrances to the five-storey building were blocked by falling concrete following the explosion.

The cause of the blast is thought to have been a gas leak.

A spokesman for Ukraine’s emergency ministry said 19 people had been rescued, with four of them being treated in hospital.

Correspondents say casualties caused by gas explosions in often crumbling apartment buildings are common occurrences in former Soviet states, particularly in the winter, when residents use more heating.

One such blast in October 2007 killed 23 residents in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk.

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December 16, 2008

Israel tourism bus crash kills 24

Israel tourism bus crash kills 24

A bus carrying Russian visitors has plunged into a ravine in southern Israel, killing at least 24 people, rescue workers say.

More than 50 passengers were on the bus when it came off a desert road and rolled down a steep slope near the Red Sea resort of Eilat.

Several of those hurt were said to be in a serious condition.

The group had only just arrived and were being transported to Eilat from Ovda airport in the Negev desert.

The group had come from the Russian city of St Petersburg. Local media reports said they were travel agents from the city on a trip to survey the Red Sea resort.

Dozens of rescue workers, ambulances and several air force helicopters rushed to the site to evacuate the injured.

Map

Television footage showed the blue bus on its side at the bottom of the ravine.

Several of the passengers were thrown from the bus as it rolled down the slope, an eyewitness said. Luggage and wreckage lay strewn across the slope.

Some of the casualties were taken to hospital in Eilat, where medical personnel attending a conference were drafted in to help out. Others were flown to the town of Beersheba, a police spokesman said.

Six injured people who were trapped in the bus were rescued, an Israeli military officer said.

“They were saved because they were trapped in their seats,” the Associated Press news agency quoted the unidentified officer as saying.

The Russian embassy in Tel Aviv said it had sent a representative to the scene of the accident.

‘Overtook’

It is being seen as a tragic accident rather than any kind of attack.

The road where the accident happened links Eilat, a popular holiday destination, with Ovda airport, some 50km (30 miles) away.

The bus lies at the bottom of the ravine

The bus broke through a rail and rolled down a ravine, witnesses said.

It crosses mountainous terrain and involves a series of hair-pin bends.

The driver of another bus said that the vehicle overtook him in a no-passing zone and then crashed through a guard rail, the Associated Press news agency reported.

A taxi driver who saw the accident gave a similar account to Israeli public radio.

“The driver of the bus tried to overtake another bus in a hair-pin curve and lost control of his vehicle,” he said.

Have you been affected by the crash? You can send us your comments

November 25, 2008

US Fed unveils new $800bn rescue

US Fed unveils new $800bn rescue

A US home that has been repossessed

The Fed’s aim is to prevent a deep economic slump

The Federal Reserve is to pump $800bn (£526.8bn) into the markets in another bid to deal with the financial crisis.

The US central bank said it would use $600bn to buy-up mortgage-backed securities to help encourage lending.

Separately the Fed also unveiled a $200bn plan to help unfreeze the consumer credit market.

As the credit crisis has deepened, banks and other financial institutions have been reluctant to lend, deepening the economic slowdown.

Under this new rescue plan – which is in addition to the already-announced $700bn bank bail-out – the Fed is to buy up to $100bn in debt from the troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The central bank said it would also buy another $500bn in mortgage-backed securities – pools of mortgages that are bundled together and sold to investors.

New bail-out

The $600bn effort on mortgages came as the Fed also unveiled a separate program to help unfreeze the consumer debt market.

The central bank said it would lend up to $200bn to the holders of securities backed by various types of consumer loans, such as credit cards and student loans.

The Fed said that the $600 billion effort to support the mortgage market was being taken to reduce the cost of home mortgages and increase their availability.

It said the purchases of the mortgages and mortgage-backed securities would take place over a number of months.

The severe financial crisis that is rocking global markets at the moment began more than a year ago with rising defaults on subprime mortgages, loans provided to borrowers with weak credit histories.

‘Unblocking credit’

Recently, Treasury secretary Henry Paulson had indicated that the government was working on this new program, which will be supported by $20bn of credit protection provided by the existing $700bn bank bail-out fund.

The news of this latest massive financial rescue plan was generally welcomed.

“They are getting to the heart of the problem, it’s clean, it’s quick, it’s direct. It’s a good way to bring down mortgage rates, because at the end of the day they have to stabilise the housing market,” said Todd Abraham of Federated Investors, Pittsburgh.

Robert Macintosh, chief economist with Eaton Vance, Boston, said: “If they can pull it off it’ll make some people happy, but I don’t know how effective it’ll actually be.”

Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James Associates, Florida, said: “Here is the Fed taking a bunch of debt out of the market, which doesn’t hurt. I think it should it should help unblock the credit markets.”

September 19, 2008

Danish jet survives landing scare

Danish jet survives landing scare

Map

A Boeing 737 with 145 people on board has landed safely at Copenhagen airport despite suffering problems with its landing gear, Danish media have said.

The plane, belonging to the airline, Jettime, had been flying from Billund to Lanzarote when it developed a fault in its front landing gear, they added.

After dumping fuel, the plane was ordered to land at Copenhagen airport.

Danish TV showed the jet touching down on the runway and taxiing to a gate, followed by several rescue vehicles.

September 16, 2008

Texas begins mass post-Ike rescue

Texas begins mass post-Ike rescue

Texas has begun what is being described as the biggest search and rescue effort in its history following Hurricane Ike.

At least 2,000 people have been rescued but many thousands more are believed to have ignored the mandatory order to evacuate before Saturday’s storm.

The death toll rose to 30 as Ike swept on from Texas into the mid-US, with heavy rain causing flooding.

Millions of people are without power and Houston is under a week-long curfew as work continues to restore services.

While many schools remained shut, there were signs of a return to normality on Monday, as the city’s two airports resumed limited services and some shops and restaurants opened for business.

Five people died in Galveston Bay, an island city south-east of Houston which bore the brunt of the storm as Ike swept ashore on Saturday, bringing 13ft (4m) waves and 110mph (175km/h) winds.

‘Stay away’

Rescuers feared the toll could rise as they searched areas awash with sewage for those who did not leave before the hurricane hit.

As many as 140,000 people – some 10,000 in Galveston alone – failed to heed the order to evacuate.

Across Texas, 50 helicopters, 1,500 federal, state and local search teams were looking for stranded survivors, and a US navy ship carrying engineers was heading to Galveston to help with rebuilding operations.

We’ll work as hard and fast as we can to help you get your lives back up to normal
US President George W Bush

Nearly 40,000 evacuees were being housed in 250 shelters across Texas – some with little money and no idea how long they would have to stay.

Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas urged residents to stay away until it was safe to return to their homes.

“There’s nothing to come here for,” she said. “Please leave.”

Warning that residents of Texas and Louisiana were in for “tough times”, David Paulison, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), said some people would “be out of their homes for not only weeks, but months”.

Fema has said it will deliver 7.5m meals as well as 5m gallons (20m litres) of water over the next few days.

President George W Bush, who is due to survey the damage on Tuesday, told those affected by the storm: “We’ll work as hard and fast as we can to help you get your lives back up to normal”.

Although Ike weakened to a tropical depression as it headed beyond Texas, the storm’s US death-toll rose to 30 as torrential rain caused severe flooding and power outages in parts of Louisiana, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.

Ike killed more than 80 people when it tore through the Caribbean late last week.


Have you been affected by Hurricane Ike? Send us your comments and experiences

September 13, 2008

Arrests’ after China landslide

Arrests’ after China landslide

Family members grieve for one of the victims on 12 September 2008

Devastated relatives are now burying their dead

More than a dozen mine officials have been arrested, Chinese state media have reported, after a landslide engulfed a village, killing at least 178 people.

The local Communist Party head has been sacked over Monday’s incident in Shanxi province, news agency Xinhua said.

Thousands of rescue workers are combing through the debris in Taoshi, in which hundreds more victims may be buried.

Frequent mining accidents in China are blamed on lax safety standards and ageing infrastructure.

More than 3,000 rescue workers are at the site, near the city of Linfen, recovering bodies from the debris with the help of 160 diggers, Xinhua reported.

But hopes of finding any more survivors are fading four days on from the accident. It is not known how many people are still missing.

Rescuers have already covered about 90% of the area, Xinhua said.

‘Grave accident’

Earlier in the week, government officials were quoted as saying hundreds of people could be dead, but they later denied such statements.

Thirteen officials from the Tashan Mining Co, which ran the illegal iron ore operation, have now been arrested, Xinhua reported.

Map

In addition, the head of the local Communist Party and other senior local officials were dismissed, the agency said.

“It is the most grave accident that involves the largest death toll so far this year,” said Wang Jun, director of the State Administration of Work Safety.

“The rising accidents disclose local governments’ poor supervision on work safety. Those responsible must be dealt with seriously.”

The torrent of sludge buried the village of 1,000 people, including a market that was packed with people attending a fair, the China Daily newspaper reported.

Witnesses said that the mud appeared to be more than 20ft (6m) deep in some places.

State media said that the mining reservoir was decommissioned in the 1980s, but had recently been put back into use after a new owner took over the mine.

The mine’s safety certificate was revoked in 2006, it said.

Analysts say the disaster highlights China’s failure to enforce safety standards at its notoriously dangerous mines, and also the unsound state of many of its bridges, dams and other ageing infrastructure.

September 7, 2008

US lenders ‘face state takeover’

US lenders ‘face state takeover’

Home repossessed in US

US mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are set to be put under government control in an attempt to rescue the firms, media reports say.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson will outline government plans at a news conference at 1100 (1600 BST).

The move to shore up the shareholder-owned firms, which hold or guarantee half the US mortgage debt, would be the US’s largest ever financial bail-out.

In July, Congress approved a plan aimed

at offering them more liquidity.

This followed huge losses by the two firms as result of a big increase in defaults and repossessions in the US housing market.

‘Management told’

On Saturday, a senior politician, Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had told him the government would use its powers to ensure the continued and stable functioning of the companies.

The Washington Post, quoting senior administration sources, said the firms would be put under a legal status known as “conservatorship” which would greatly reduce the value of the two companies’ common stock.

BBC Business Editor Robert Peston
This is an event of profound significance for the global economy
BBC Business Editor Robert Peston

Other securities – including company debt and preferred shares – would be guaranteed by the government, the paper added.

The New York Times reported that senior executives at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were informed about the plan on Friday.

The Wall Street Journal said it would include changes in the top management.

There would also be quarterly infusions of cash to keep both firms afloat, the papers say. The total cost to taxpayers is not known but could amount to billions of dollars, they add.

The government was being forced to step in because it was dangerous for the US economy for doubts to persist about the two firms’ viability.

Struggling homeowners

HAVE YOUR SAY

Government control over larger portions of the economy can only end badly

TB, US

The two contenders for the US presidency, Barack Obama and John McCain, have been briefed on the takeover by Mr Paulson.

“We’ve got to keep people in their homes,” said the Republican candidate, John McCain.

“There’s got to be restructuring, there’s got to be reorganisation, and there’s got to be some confidence that we’ve stopped this downward spiral,” he added, saying that the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac must not benefit executives at the two companies.

The Democratic Party candidate, Barack Obama, said any action should be focused “on whether it will strengthen our economy and help struggling homeowners”.

“We must not allow government intervention to protect investors and speculators who relied on the government to reap massive profits,” he said, adding “we must protect taxpayers, not bail out the shareholders and management of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac”.

Fragile

On Friday, America’s Mortgage Bankers Association reported that at the end of June, about four million homeowners with a mortgage – representing a record 9% – either were behind in their payments or faced repossession.

In the past year, the financial crisis has taken a heavy toll on both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The country’s two largest buyers and backers of mortgages lost a combined $3.1bn between April and June.

Both companies say they have the resources to weather the losses, but their shares have fallen sharply on fears that they could go bankrupt as borrowers default.

The rescue plan passed by Congress in July gave the US government the authority to buy shares and offer liquidity to companies to keep them afloat.

Many analysts believe their collapse would be a major shock to the already fragile global financial system.

Together, the two firms own or guarantee about $5.3 trillion worth of home loans – about half the outstanding mortgages in the US.

That is about 25 times as big as the obligations of Northern Rock – which was nationalised by the UK government earlier this year, and twice the size of the UK economy.

September 3, 2008

India’s belated flood relief operation

India’s belated flood relief operation

Flood victims in Saharsa in Bihar

Hundreds of thousands are still stranded in the floods

Aid is beginning to reach the flood-affected in the Indian state of Bihar, but some say it is too late.

A long convoy of Indian army trucks is driving on the highway between the towns of Purnea and Madhepura in north Bihar.

They are carrying soldiers as well as rescue equipment, including boats.

Further ahead, they will be joined by Indian navy divers who will assist them in evacuating those villagers still stranded in flood waters.

Officials say they expect to bring out everyone in 72 hours.

At the Purnea air force base, two helicopters are being loaded up with emergency supplies – mostly food and medicines in packets.

These will be dropped from the air to the flood victims who are still cut off.

After facing a barrage of criticism for not doing enough, the Indian government has begun responding.

But for some, it is too late.

Sanjay is a migrant worker employed in the northern Indian state of Punjab hundreds of miles to the west.

He has rushed back to Murliganj in Madhepura, to try and save his grandfather who is marooned and very ill.

An army rescue team takes him to his village but by the time he gets there, his grandfather has died.

Overflowing camps

“He needed medicines – but they were unable to get any in the past 10 days because of the floods.”

Wrapped in a white shroud, his body is lifted on to the rescue boat to be taken away.

With the rescue operation in full swing, attention is now shifting to the relief camps which are all overflowing.

C Sridhar, the district magistrate in Purnea who is overseeing the relief effort there, says the government is doing all it can.

Villagers in Bihar gather relief material dropped by an air force helicopter in Madhubani district on 2 September 2008

Many people are still waiting for aid

“The government is prepared to provide assistance to all these people who have nowhere to go,” he tells me in his large colonial-era office where his phone is constantly ringing.

“We are in the process of building a mega-relief camp in Purnea district headquarters which will eventually have semi-permanent tents with roofs made of corrugated iron,” he adds even as he sends out instructions over the phone.

At the moment though, the focus is on just getting people into camps and getting them some immediate assistance.

Aid agencies and government medical teams have begun visiting some camps, where there are already reports of some people suffering from diarrhoea.

They are distributing oral rehydration salts and other medicines.

‘Fairly organised’

But sanitation levels at the camps are poor and there is concern that preventive measures may be too late.

Bjorn Nissen of Medicins Sans Frontieres has visited several camps to assess the situation.

“Aid is getting through and seems fairly organised.

“But yes, there is always a potential for water-borne diseases to affect large numbers of people. We are still trying to see what is needed and what we can do.”

Flood victims scramble for food packets in Saharsa in Bihar

The scale of the floods has overwhelmed relief efforts

India has not asked for international assistance. There is a strong sense here that it is not needed, that the government has enough resources to provide for those affected.

But it is not refusing all offers of help.

“We will certainly welcome international aid particularly those who can offer certain expertise,” says Mr Sridhar.

“Floods are a traumatic experience. Those who have suffered will need help in coping with their situation and eventually rebuilding their lives. This is an area where international groups can offer immense help.”

So why has it taken so long for the relief effort to hit speed?

There was one clue on Monday.

Minutes after the army convoy drove down the Purnea-Madhepura highway, it was followed by a long line of cars with flashing lights.

A senior Indian cabinet minister, Laloo Prasad Yadav, who is also a former chief minister of Bihar, had come visiting.

Bihar is currently governed by his political opponents – and so the state and federal governments have spent a lot of the past week blaming each other for the mess.

In between, the flood survivors wait for someone to take note of them.

August 30, 2008

Gustav strengthens off west Cuba

Gustav strengthens off west Cuba

Hurricane Gustav has strengthened into a “major” category three storm as it nears western Cuba, US forecasters say.

Cuban civil defence forces have been put on alert, and a mass evacuation is under way in low-lying coastal areas, where mudslides and floods are feared.

Gustav has already struck the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, killing more than 70 people.

It could become a category four storm over the weekend as it passes over warm waters and heads for the US Gulf Coast.

Predicted route of Hurricane Gustav (29 August 2008)

Cuban authorities have evacuated more than 60,000 people from low-lying coastal areas in Pinar del Rio and Isla de la Juventud before Gustav hits, and have mobilised medical and emergency rescue teams to deal with the possible aftermath.

All buses and trains to and from Havana have also been suspended until further notice.

The Caribbean island has one of the most efficient disaster preparedness and evacuation organisations in the region, but that the poor condition of housing in the capital could pose additional risks in a major storm.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency has said it expects a “huge number” of residents will be told to leave the region over the weekend.

Gustav’s approach came as New Orleans buried some of the last unidentified victims of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city in 2005.

Cuba concern

As of 1000 GMT on Saturday, Gustav had become a “major” category three hurricane with wind speeds of up to 185km/h (115mph) as it passed about 220km (135 miles) south-east of Isla de la Juventud and about 410km (255 miles) east-south-east of the western tip of Cuba, the US National Hurricane Center said.

We look ahead to a better day, as we also prepare ourselves for another threat
Ray Nagin
Mayor of New Orleans

The storm will move away from the Cayman Islands on Saturday morning at about 19km/h (12mph) before passing through western Cuba later in the afternoon and into the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.

Gustav has already claimed the lives of at least 59 people in Haiti, eight in the Dominican Republic and four in Jamaica, where heavy rains caused flooding and strong winds tore roofs off houses.

There have so far been no reports of any casualties from the Cayman Islands, where storm surge and heavy rains flooded streets overnight.

The government did not impose a curfew, but urged people to remain indoors to avoid interfering with emergency workers.

Gustav’s projected path also takes it over the oil-producing Gulf of Mexico, where workers have been evacuated from several rigs.

Katrina compassion

New Orleans buried the last seven unclaimed bodies of Katrina at a memorial site on Friday as the biggest storm to hit the region since approached.

A memorial service in New Orleans for victims of Hurricane Katrina (29/08/2008)

New Orleans buried the last unclaimed bodies from Katrina on Friday

“We look ahead to a better day, as we also prepare ourselves for another threat,” said Mayor Ray Nagin.

Later, Mr Nagin said an evacuation order was likely, though not before Saturday.

Gustav is forecast to make landfall on the US Gulf Coast anywhere from south Texas to Florida by Tuesday, prompting four states to plan large-scale evacuations.

Emergency officials have warned that a tidal storm surge up to nine metres (30ft) is possible along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

US President George W Bush has declared a state of emergency in Louisiana and Texas, allowing the federal government to co-ordinate disaster relief and provide assistance in storm-affected areas.

Gustav is the second major hurricane of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.


Have you been affected by Gustav? Are you preparing for its arrival? Send us your comments and experiences

August 25, 2008

Plane crashes in Kyrgyz capital

Plane crashes in Kyrgyz capital

A passenger plane has crashed shortly after take-off from Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, killing 68 out of the 90 passengers and crew, officials say.

There were many foreigners on board, including Iranians and Canadians.

The Itek Air Boeing 737 took off bound for Iran, but turned round about 10 minutes later.

An airport spokeswoman said the crew had reported a technical problem, and the plane crashed not far from the airport and caught fire.

Ambulances and fire-fighting equipment from the nearby US air base at Manas, 30km (20 miles) from Bishkek, were dispatched to help with the rescue effort.

All six Kyrgyz crew members and an Iranian aviation official were among the survivors, the press office of Kyrgyzstan’s government said.

Uncertainty

PASSENGER LIST
Wreckage of Itek Air plane near Bishkek
52 Iranians
24 Kyrgyz
Three Kazakhs
Two Canadians
One Chinese
One Turk
Seven crew

Initial reports said the plane was flying to Mashhad in north-eastern Iran, but later officials said it had been due to fly to the capital, Tehran.

Prime Minister Igor Chudinov said 51 of the passengers were foreigners, including people from China, Turkey, Iran and Canada.

There were also 17 members of a school sport team from Bishkek on board, seven of whom survived.

The prime minister said that the crew had reported a sudden depressurization on board the plane.

“The plane took off and then it lost pressure,” said Mr Chudinov.

It crashed at 2040 (1440 GMT).

Airport employees said the fuselage of the plane was destroyed by flames and only the tail remained intact.

Yelena Bayalinova, spokeswoman for the Kyrgyz health ministry, told the Interfax news agency that many victims of the crash had suffered burns, and that some were in critical condition.

map

The plane belonged to Itek Air, a Kyrgyz company, but there were reports that it was being operated by Iran Aseman Airlines.

However, Iranian and Kyrgyz official said the plane was both owned and operated by Itek Air.

Itek Air is on a list of airlines banned from EU airspace because of fears over safety standards.

Prime Minister Chudinov said the plane had been made in 1979 and was “in good condition and had an extended warranty”.


Are you in the area? Did you witness the plane crash? Send your comments
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