Archive | December 28, 2014

Ferry with 478 passengers catches fire in the Adriatic Sea

Boatfire Alert

Passengers trapped on a ferry which is on fire during bad weather in the Adriatic Sea have been using mobile phones to plead for help.
 
Some called Greek TV stations in desperation as they huddled on the top decks of the Norman Atlantic while the ship was battered by gales.
 
Several hundred are thought to be exposed to a raging storm and billowing smoke, while a blaze burns and explosions are heard below.
 
Attempts to pluck them off in pairs by helicopter have proved difficult with two falling from an escape chute into the water where they were left struggling against the six metre waves.
A total of 478 passengers and crew were on board the ship when it caught fire just after 6am local time about 35 miles north of Corfu, close to the Albanian city of Vlora, while it was travelling from Patras, Greece, to Ancona in Italy.
 
About 115 passengers have been rescued with most being taken to ships nearby but dozens are thought to still be stranded at sea in life boats.
A map showing the location of the stricken ship
Greek and Albanian authorities, using planes and at least five helicopters, are taking part in the rescue operation which is being led by the Italians.
 
Sky News producer Anthee Carassava said that tug boats are being brought in to drag the stranded ship closer to the shore so the passengers can be safely taken off.
 
Dozens of cars and lorries are on the vessel’s vehicle deck, where the fire is believed to be alight, with several of the container lorries carrying olive oil.
 
A number of those who had been unable to get off the ferry, some coughing from the smoke, called news channels requesting help.
 
One passenger said: “They tried to lower some boats, but not all of us could get in. There is no coordination. It’s dark, the bottom of the vessel is on fire.
 
“We are on the bridge, we can see a boat approaching… we opened some boxes and got some life vests, we are trying to save ourselves.”
 
One told the MEGA TV channel: “We could see fire everywhere. The flames were coming from the garage, cabins…”
 
Another, quoted by The Daily, appealed for help saying: “We urgently need help. We cannot leave the ship. There are boats but we are trapped.”
 
It is unclear how many casualties there have been but one man is known to have been airlifted to Italy suffering from hypothermia.
 
The British Ambassador in Greece said he was aware of the fire and the embassy is trying to establish if any Britons are on board.
 
Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, Greece’s Merchant Marine Minister, said several ships are in the area, the closest of which is the cruise ship Europa, which is leading the rescue operation.
 
He said: “We are doing everything we can to save those on board and no one, no one will be left helpless in this tough situation.”
 
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Twitter he is talking to his Greek counterpart Antonis Samaras about the rescue effort.
 
The ship is owned by the Italian company VISEMAR de Navigazione and chartered to Greek ferry firm ANEK Lines SA. It runs on a route which in the summer is popular with tourists heading to the southern Greek mainland.
 
Further north, a Turkish-registered merchant ship sank in the northern Adriatic Sea off the Italian port of Ravenna on Sunday following a collision with another vessel in rough seas. Reports said five crew members are unaccounted for.
Courtesy of Sky News

Heavy snow in French Alps strands motorists, Severe winds in other parts

Severe Weather Alert

Heavy snowfall brought both chaos and joy across Europe, with some 15,000 people stranded overnight Sunday in the French Alps while skiers revelled in the fresh powder blanketing slopes.
 
A storm dumped masses of snow on mountain roads as a rush of end-of-year holidaymakers headed to and from ski resorts in the Savoie region in southeastern France.
 
Bleary-eyed families made their way to 83 emergency shelters opened across the region after up to 18 hours stuck in traffic, while some were forced to spend the night in their cars.
 
Savoie authorities said 15,000 people had been housed in the emergency shelters.
 
“It took us 10 hours to go 130 kilometres (80 miles),” said Kevin Clavel who was stuck in his car with four passengers.
 
The icy conditions also caused the death of a 27-year-old man whose car slid into a ravine in the Belledonne mountain range.
 
Snow and freezing conditions continued into Sunday, according to France’s meteorological services.
 
France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in a statement urged drivers “to exercise the utmost caution” and asked those who could delay their trips to do so.
 
The snow storms across Europe also caused disruption in Britain where more than 100,000 homes were left without power and airports suffered several delays.
‘Winter is finally here’
Despite the chaos, the arrival of fresh white powder was a boon to European ski resorts which had been unable to fully open during the key holiday season.
 
“What joy! It is a gift from the sky,” said Gilbert Blanc-Tailleur of the Courchevel ski resort in the French Alps.
 
“Snow is coming. Winter is finally here!” said the La Bresse ski station in the eastern Vosges mountains on its website.
 
In Austria — which this year experienced its warmest year since records began 247 years ago — ski resort operators also breathed a sigh of relief as much of the country was blanketed in white, with more snow forecast on Sunday.
 
Last week Semmering near Vienna was forced to cancel two skiing World Cup events due to lack of snow and temperatures too mild even to operate snow cannons.
 
But the Oesterreich daily declared the ski season saved on Saturday, headlining with: “Hurray! The snow is here.”
 
Swiss ski resorts were also coated but, as in France, authorities there warned of a severe avalanche risk after the heavy snowfall.
Wind closes Calais port
Meanwhile in France, winds also wreaked havoc, with storms packing gusts of up to 160 kilometres (100 miles) per hour forcing the temporary closure on Saturday of France’s port of Calais on the English Channel and the suspension of car ferries to and from Britain.
 
A few kilometres outside the industrial northern city, thousands of illegal migrants living in makeshift camps struggled through a second night of freezing temperatures.
 
“The conditions outside are hellish,” said David Lacour, the director of Solid’R, which is running a care centre to help migrants survive the cold.
 
“The storm blew away a lot of tents — some now have nothing.”
 
Up to 2,300 migrants are thought to be in Calais and surrounding areas, where they live in flimsy tents waiting for a chance to get to Britain.
Courtesy of Expatica

Missing AirAsia plane: Third major Malaysian air incident of 2014

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Today’s incident involving the AirAsia plane which has gone missing is the latest in a number of major air incidents this year, and the third involving Malaysia.
 
The Malaysia-based AirAsia, which has dominated cheap travel in the region for years, has never lost a plane before.
 
On March 8, Malaysia Airlines flight 370, a wide-bodied Boeing 777, went missing soon after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.
 
It remains missing until this day with 239 people in one of the biggest aviation mysteries.
 
Another Malaysia Airlines flight, also a Boeing 777, was shot down over rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine while on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17. A total of 298 people on board were killed.
 
The crew’s request for a change of route was strange as there “didn’t seem to be anything unusual” according to a US air crash search and rescue expert.
 
The search has now been called off until the morning.
Courtesy of Press and Journal

Bird Flu Virus Strikes Washington and Oregon, USA

Bird Flu

Commercial poultry producers say they’re concerned the outbreak of highly pathogenic bird flu virus found in Washington and Oregon will hurt exports by prompting some nations to impose trade barriers.
 
“It’s probably going to be a problem anyway because some countries aren’t going to properly distinguish between backyard and commercial” flocks, export council President James Sumner told Capital Press. “This likely will have repercussions that will likely impact the entire U.S. industry.”
 
Sumner said China already bans poultry imports form five states because of cases of low pathogenic bird flu.
 
He said he hoped the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be able to convince other countries to continue buying U.S. poultry by showing the virus has not spread to commercial producers.
 
Officials suspect that wild ducks that breed in Alaska and northeast Asia have spread the virus to the U.S.
 
The Oregon Department of Agriculture announced last week that a strain of highly pathogenic bird flu virus, H5N8, had been found in a flock of 100 guinea fowl and chickens in the southern Oregon town of Winston. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has quarantined the Winston yard and will dispose of any surviving birds.
 
The spot is along the Pacific Flyway, where the birds could easily have contact with wild birds carrying the virus while migrating south for the winter, department spokesman Bruce Pokarney said.
 
Both the H5N2 and H5N8 strains of the virus were found in Washington state. The state Department of Agriculture reported H5N2 in a wild northern pintail duck found in Whatcom County. A captive gyrfalcon that was fed a wild duck from the same area died of H5N8.
 
In British Columbia, 11 poultry farms have been quarantined after discovery of the virus, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
 
Many countries, including the United States, have imposed restrictions on Canadian poultry and eggs.
 
The USDA said Friday that it has reported the Oregon case to the World Organization of Animal Health, and is working with other countries to minimize trade impacts.
 
The last outbreak of highly pathogenic bird flu in the United States was in 2004, when 7,000 chickens in Texas were infected.
Courtesy of The Register Guard

4 die of Bird Flu and another in hospital in Libya

Bird Flu

Four people have died after contacting bird flu in Libya over the last few days, says the health minister of the country’s internationally recognized government.
 
Rida al-Awkali made the announcement on Saturday, adding that a fifth person is also suspected to have contracted the deadly virus and is currently being treated at a hospital in the eastern city of Tobruk.
 
Awkali went on to say that three of the victims died in the country’s capital city Tripoli, and the fourth in Tobruk.
 
He refrained from saying which strain of the virus they were infected with.
 
The health minister added that he is to travel to Tobruk on Sunday and from there to Egypt to meet World Health Organization experts, who are closely monitoring the various strains of flu.
 
Awkali also said that a WHO delegation is scheduled to arrive in Libya during the next 48 hours.
 
Tobruk is located across the border from Egypt where, according to local health authorities, at least eight people have already succumbed to the virus this year.
 
The first recorded case of bird flu in Libya was at a poultry farm in Tobruk in March, without any humans infected.
 
Mainly in Southeast Asia, the H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus has killed over 400 people since first appearing in 2003. A separate strain, H7N9 has also killed over 170 people since it first emerged in 2013.
Courtesy of PressTV

Woman critically ill with H7N9 virus in Hong Kong

H7N9 Picture
Hong Kong hospitals raised alert levels Sunday, as a woman diagnosed with the deadly H7N9 avian flu virus was in a critical condition.
 
The 68-year-old woman was hospitalized on Dec. 25 after returning from the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen almost two weeks earlier, although it has not been confirmed where or how she contracted the virus.
 
Ten people had previously been diagnosed with H7N9 in Hong Kong, three of whom died. All had contracted the virus in mainland China, according to Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection.
 
The outbreak, which first emerged on the mainland in February 2013, has reignited fears that a bird flu virus could mutate to become easily transmissible between people, threatening to trigger a pandemic.
 
In response to the new case, the city’s first since early 2014, Hong Kong announced it was raising its response level in hospitals to “serious” from “alert,” with extra precautions implemented in hospitals from Sunday. The rules include limitations on visiting hours and compulsory surgical masks for those visiting patients.
 
There are three response levels, with “emergency” the most serious. The Hong Kong government reduced the level from “serious” to “alert” in June after a drop in cases.
 
Health Minister Ko Wing-man said late Saturday that the woman had been with two friends in Shenzhen, where she had eaten “home-cooked chicken,” although she is not believed to have had contact with live poultry at markets.
 
She remained in intensive care Sunday, hospital authorities said.
 
Hong Kong slaughtered 20,000 chickens in January after the virus was found in poultry imported from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. A four-month ban on live poultry imports from mainland China was then imposed to guard against the disease.
 
Ko said the new response level would not affect the import of poultry for the time being, as “rapid testing” had been introduced to check birds for the disease. “We will closely monitor the situation . . . then decide the appropriate measures,” he said.
 
Hong Kong is particularly alert to the spread of viruses after an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome swept through the city in 2003, killing 299 people and infecting around 1,800. There have been 469 cases of H7N9 in mainland China since 2013, according to Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection.
Courtesy of The Japan Times

6 more test positive for swine flu; 1 critical in Telangana, India

Swine Flu Alert

The city woke up to six positive cases of swine flu on Saturday taking the total number of confirmed cases to 62 in Telangana. 
 
While the condition of five among them is yet to be ascertained, one of the victims — identified as a 63-year-old woman from KPHB in city — is said to be in an extremely critical condition. She is currently undergoing treatment at a private hospital in Banjara Hills. 
 
The others tested positive for the virus include a 17-month-old boy from Secunderabad, a 36-year-old man from Jagadgirigutta, a 54-year-old woman from Bowenpally and a 53-year old man whose address is yet to be known. 
 
While all these patients are undergoing treatment at four different corporate hospitals in the city, the sixth individual — a 27-year-old man from Mahbubnagar, is being treated at the district’s healthcare facility. 
 
Regardless of the rapid rise in the number of cases, the officials concerned appeared in the least apologetic about the two-day holiday granted to the state-run Institute of Preventive Medicine (IPM) — the only nodal laboratory to conduct swine flu tests in the two states — for Christmas. This is despite the IPM laboratory attracting severe criticism from medical experts and government health officials in the past for the same reason.
 
 Doctor checks a patient at the swine flu screening centre at the Central Railway Station in Chennai.
The lab also closed down for the weekend. 
 
“It is a very precarious situation considering six people have tested positive on one single day. I think we would stumble upon more positive cases if tests are conducted regularly,” said Dr M Ramakrishna Reddy, a consultant pulmonologist with Holistic Hospitals. Several experts called for speedier diagnosis lashing out at the authorities for their lackadaisical attitude towards tackling the fast-spreading virus. 
 
K Subhakar, state coordinator for swine flu said that there wasn’t any reason for people to hit the panic button just yet. 
 
“We have been observing the H1N1 virus for the last four years and what we have found is that there has been no change in its behaviour. Only if there is a mutation in the swine flu virus there could be a serious reason to worry but that has not happened so far,” he said while admitting that there was little he could do about IPM’s holidays.
Courtesy of The Times Of India

MAGNITUDE 5.2 OFF EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN

http://www.emsc-csem.org/Earthquake/earthquake.php?id=415216

Subject To Change

Depth: 10 km

Distances: 319 km E of Sendai-shi, Japan / pop: 1,037,562 / local time: 20:49:43.4 2014-12-28
247 km E of Kamaishi, Japan / pop: 43,107 / local time: 20:49:43.4 2014-12-28


Global viewRegional view

MAGNITUDE 3.9 ICELAND REGION

Subject to change

Depth: 3.5 km
 

Distances: Latitude, Longitude  64.668 -17.464
(4.3 km NE of Bárðarbunga)

Earthquake location   28 Dec 12:55 GMT

Map of earthquake epicentres

Time and magnitude of earthquake   28 Dec 12:55 GMT

Graph showing earthquake timing and magnitude

MAGNITUDE 4.6 ICELAND REGION

Subject to change

Depth: 10.2 km
 

Distances: Latitude, Longitude  64.650 -17.501
(1.6 km NE of Bárðarbunga)

Earthquake location   28 Dec 12:55 GMT

Map of earthquake epicentres

Time and magnitude of earthquake   28 Dec 12:55 GMT

Graph showing earthquake timing and magnitude