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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Drama at city airport as flyers jump out of plane

Fire Alarm Triggers Evacuation: On To Wing, Then Tarmac; Some Hurt

Mumbai: Mumbai airport witnessed dramatic scenes on Friday evening when over 150 passengers of a Jet Airways flight to Chennai were ordered to evacuate the flight on an emergency basis after passengers saw smoke inside the cabin—close to the left wing—and pointed it out to the crew.
    But the inflatable evacuation chutes at two of the exits near the middle of the aircraft failed to open, forcing many of the passengers to jump on to one of the wings and then jump down to the tarmac. Three of the passengers suf
fered fractures and a dozen more received minor injuries in the process. All of them were given first aid by Mumbai International Airport Limited officials and those who suffered fractures were taken to hospital after that.
    The incident took place around 9 pm when flight 9W2302, already 45 minutes behind schedule, was on the taxiway of the airport just before takeoff. "One of my co-passengers saw the smoke and immediately alerted the
cabin crew,'' Shrikanth Barhate, one of the passengers aboard the Boeing 737 aircraft, told TOI minutes after the dramatic escape.
    One cabin crew member went into the cockpit to inform the commander as others searched for the source of the fire. "Then, all of a sudden, we were told to evacuate and the emergency exits were opened,'' Barhate said.


At 9 pm on Friday, Jet flight 9W2302 to Chennai is waiting on the taxiway A passenger notices smoke, alerts crew members Commander announces immediate evacuation Emergency exit doors near the middle of the aircraft are opened No inflatable slides, so flyers jump onto wing 3 sustain fractures, a dozen minor injuries
No trace of fire, says Jet
    The front and rear exits of the flight were also thrown open, he added, but not too many people could use them because the aisle was crowded. "Many of us, who were nearer the emergency exits in the middle, rushed there,'' he explained.
    It was there that the passengers realised that there was no inflatable slide to help them get off the aircraft and they would have to jump off the flight. Many of the flyers first jumped on to the wing and then jumped more than 12 feet to land on the tarmac, suffering fractures and bruises in the process.
    Barhate himself suffered minor injuries. "I had taken off my shoes and was relaxing when the flight attendant barked out the evacuation orders. I just jumped off the aircraft with my shoes in hand,'' he said, adding that an elderly woman who jumped after him apparently sustained serious injuries.
    An MIAL spokesperson confirmed the incident. "Jet Airway's flight to Chennai reported fire in one of its engines when it was still on the taxiway,'' the official said. "But no fire was detected,'' he said.
    A Jet Airways spokesperson said the commander on board was informed of "an alleged engine fire''. There was no visible trace of the fire but the commander still proceeded to declare a "precautionary emergency'', the spokesperson said, adding that a "thorough inspection of the engine was carried out'' after the evacuation.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

FOCUS assists thousands of flood victims in Pakistan

Islamabad, Pakistan, 12 August 2010 - Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS) Pakistan, an affiliate of the Aga Khan Development Network, has launched a relief effort to assist the thousands of people displaced by the recent floods in the Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral regions of northern Pakistan.

FOCUS, with its teams of trained personnel and hundreds of volunteers, supplied food items comprising flour, rice, cooking oil, sugar and tea to the hundreds of families left destitute by the heavy monsoon rains, which have ravaged different parts of Pakistan. In addition to food supplies, non-food items such as tents, tarpaulins and blankets are being supplied to displaced families in Ghizar and Chitral. In its first phase, the assistance has reached over 900 destitute households through the emergency intervention.

"It has been extremely difficult to reach these vulnerable communities," said Khadija Shaban, Chairperson, FOCUS Pakistan. "Almost all infrastructure has been destroyed by the flood and relief activities are hindered," she added. A blockade of the Gilgit-Ghizar road and smaller village link roads hindered relief activities in the rugged region. However, additional tents, blankets, tarpaulin and bedding items have been transported to the region after the government restored the Gilgit-Ghizar link road earlier this month.

As part of the efforts to create resilient communities, FOCUS not only trains local communities in search and rescue operations but also establishes community stockpiles by storing limited quantities of non-food items to help local communities cope with sudden, small scale, disasters locally. Regional stockpiles have also facilitated distribution of relief items.

Flooding of the Indus River and its tributaries due to torrential rains has caused widespread destruction in Azad Kashmir, Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa (KP), and Punjab provinces of Pakistan. The United Nations has reported that to date, an estimated 14 million people have been affected by torrential rains and flooding and 6 to 7 million people are in dire need of food aid, clean water and shelter. Over 1,400 lives have been lost, more than 1,600 injured and 2 to 3 million people displaced due to the various rain-related hazards including landslides, floods, mudflows and structural collapse. More floods due to continued rains in upper parts of the country are likely to swell the number of those affected.

Over 20,000 people were displaced in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral due to complete or partial damage of residential buildings. Crop fields, orchards, trees, cattle sheds and other sources of livelihoods have also been heavily damaged or destroyed. FOCUS is in the process of transporting 200 tonnes of relief goods including food, to support 12,000 affected by the flood in these areas in collaboration with the National Disaster Management Authority.

FOCUS is also working in Chitral's Booni village, where a large glacier became active due to the heavy rains, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people. Following an aerial reconnaissance of the glacier to analyse the situation, FOCUS' intervention is reaching over 200 families in collaboration with the District administration. While most of the evacuated families are now living with host families, hundreds are staying in tents provided by the government, FOCUS and other organisations.

Also in the country's Sindh Province, where the Meteorological Department of Pakistan has issued a "red alert" predicting an "imminent extreme flood threat" to the population, FOCUS, working closely with local community organisations, has mobilised its Search and Rescue Team and Community Emergency Response Teams to respond to the emergency situation. FOCUS continues to make public announcements to raise awareness on flood threats and precautionary measures to be implemented by affected communities.

For further information please contact: 
Nusrat Nasab 
Deputy Executive Officer 
Focus Humanitarian Assistance Pakistan 
Telephone: +92-51 2294024; 2294051 
Fax: +92-51 2294036 
E-mail: nusrat.nasab@focushumanitarian.org  

Salimah Shiraj
Member for Communications and Publications 
His Highness Prince Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for Pakistan 
Telephone: + 92-21 35861242
Cellular: +92 300 8218592 
E-mail: salimah.shiraj@akcpk.org  

Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS) is a crisis response and disaster risk management agency established in Europe, North America and South and Central Asia. It helps vulnerable communities build resilience to natural and man-made disasters and compliments the provision of humanitarian relief principally in the developing world. FOCUS is an affiliate of the Aga Khan Development Network, a group of institutions working to improve opportunities and living conditions, for people of all faiths and origins, in specific regions of the developing world. For further information please visit www.akdn.org/focus  

Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) - The Aga Khan Development Network is a group of non-denominational development agencies, created by His Highness the Aga Khan, with complementary mandates ranging from health and education to architecture, culture, microfinance, rural development, disaster reduction, the promotion of private-sector enterprise and the revitalisation of historic cities. As a contemporary endeavour of the Ismaili Imamat to realise the social conscience of Islam through institutional action, the AKDN agencies work to improve living conditions and opportunities for the poor, without regard to their faith, origin or gender. Working in the fields of economic, cultural and social development, AKDN aims to provide choices and opportunities to communities so that they can realise and determine their own development. For further information please visit www.akdn.org

Monday, August 9, 2010

Oil spill stops, danger still afloat

Mumbai: The oil that washed ashore on Monday at Sewri and Colaba finally stopped flowing, but the scare may be far from over. While the sea at the Geeta Nagar slum in Colaba was painted in hues of black, locals in Raigad district reported signs of the oil spill on their shores. About 879 metric tonnes of oil has flowed into the sea from MSC Chitra's second and third fuel tanks so far. More than 500 containers have fallen into the sea, posing a major hazard to navigational channels of Mumbai Port Trust and JNPT, whose operations remained suspended on the third consecutive day. However, MbPT chairman Rahul Asthana said since the width of the ship was 32 metres, even if it listed at 90 degrees, much of it would still be above water.
    Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought a report on the incident from the cabinet secretary. The director general of shipping ordered an inquiry into the causes of the accident after he held a meeting with representatives of all agencies monitoring the situation. Sources in Delhi said
a survey of the area by the Navy on Monday showed that 10-12 containers were still blocking the navigational channel.
    Chief minister Ashok Chavan, his deputy Chhagan Bhujbal, and environment minister Suresh Shetty went on an aerial tour. Later, Shetty said the oil was spilling at the rate of 2-3 tonnes per hour.
    Meanwhile, a constable of the Mumbai police's marine unit died after he fell off a boat near the sinking ship.

SLICK AND THE CITY: A youngster's oil-smeared palms show the extent of pollution at Geeta Nagar in Colaba on Monday

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cloudbursts a sign of climate change in cold desert

Experts: W Himalayas Warming Up Faster Than Subcontinent

New Delhi: The two cloudbursts that lashed the Leh area of Ladakh with unprecedented fury on Thursday and Friday, could be another sign that rising temperatures in the cold desert were leading to climate change, experts said.
    The western Himalayan region is warming faster than the rest of the subcontinent. A recent analysis of temperature trends in the country
since 1901 done by scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, found that maximum temperatures in the region were rising at an alarming rate of 0.53°C.
    Dr M P Sah of the Dehradun-based Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology said warming in the region was a plausible explanation for the rising incidents of cloudbursts. "Cloudbursts in this cold desert are a recent phenomenon. We see a rising trend of cloudbursts since the late 1990s. These weather events aren't expected in this dry and cold region."
    Sah added that rainfall too was increasing in Ladakh. "This ties in with the warming trend in the region. As Ladakh warms, there is more evaporation from the soil, leading to a rise in relative humidity. With increased water holding capacity of the air, the possibility of strong local convection currents leading to heavy rain increases." The geomorphologist cautioned that this was a hypothesis that explained the phenomenon but specific research needed to be conducted.

ITBP will soon open Manali-Leh highway
Hopes of an early opening of the Manali-Leh highway for at least supply trucks brightened on Saturday as the ITBP managed to clear enough way from some of the highway's offshoots for heavy trucks. The movement of 5-tonner trucks have sped up relief and rescue work. Sources in Leh said water has started gushing along the route taken by the debris. "This is a good sign. It means there is no more rubble or mud," a source said.

Major oil spill feared as ships collide off city

Mumbai: A cargo ship grounded at a worrying 25-degree tilt and discharging three to four tonnes of oil by the hour after a collision with another vessel barely five nautical miles off the city's coast in the morning kept the navy, coast guard and port officials on high alert all of Saturday.
    Around 9.50 am, Panamanian container vessel MSC Chitra, while leaving JNPT's Nhava Sheva port, collided with the inbound MV Khalijia-3, which was involved in another mishap off Mumbai on July 18. It had been recently repaired and crew and salvagers were taking it to the port when the col
lision took place in the vicinity of the Prongs Reef Lighthouse, said coast guard officials, adding that the situation has become very serious.
    "Four Chitra crew members who were asked to stay aboard to help in the salvage operations deserted the ship at 7.30 pm. Even the salvagers have left the scene,'' said one.
    The impact of the collision, according to eyewitnesses, was so huge that containers from MSC Chitra were hurled into the sea and oil began to leak from the vessel. Thirty-three crew members were rescued by Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) workers and the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC).
A struggle to contain oil spill
Coast Guard & Port Authorities Do Not Have Enough Equipment To Tackle Slick

Mumbai: Hours after the collision off Mumbai's coast on Saturday, MbPT chairperson Rahul Asthana said one of the ships, MSC Chitra, was leaking tonnes of oil. The coast guard, JNPT and MbPT do not have enough equipment to contain the slick. The coast guard has launched a helicopter with an anti-pollution dispersion spray system to tackle the spill. The grounded Chitra poses a serious threat to the navigational channels for other ships entering Mumbai's ports.
    According to senior officials, carelessness on the part of the port authorities as well as the captains was responsible for the accident as both ships were communicating on different radio frequencies. "The pilot boats were not present when the accident took place. While Chitra was on VHF 13, Khalijia-3 was using VHF 12 There was no communication between the ships.''
    Confirming it, an MbPT official said, "No one can explain how the staffers of both the ships failed to see each other. From the initial reports, we are told that the MSC Chitra was using a different signal frequency.''
    Asthana said, "Singapore-based sal
vagers were working on Khalijia-3, which has been brought to the Mumbai port.''
    On July 18, Khalijia-3, which was carrying steel coils, was grounded off the coast when water entered its hold through a leak. There were fears of an oil slick as it was carrying 728 metric tonnes of fuel and diesel. At the time, officials had raised concerns about the vessel blocking navigational channels of other ships.
    Despite the risk, there were no safeguards in place resulting in Saturday's
collision. The MbPT has roped in five barges for the fuel to be drained, and a naval architect has been sent aboard Chitra. The director general of shipping has initiated a probe into the accident. The 33 crew members from Chitra were handed over to the ship's agent in Mumbai.
    One crew member said: "The port officials are to blame for this. The incident could have been avoided if the captains had been cautious.''
8.30 AM | Panamanian container vessel MSC Chitra starts moving out of Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JnPT). It is headed to Mundra port in Gujarat
    Around the same time, crew and salvagers begin preparations to bring in the recently repaired St Kitts' vessel Khalijia-3 into JnPT. The had been grounded off Mumbai's coast in an accident on July 19
    The ships are on different radio frequencies. MSC Chitra is on VHF 13 and Khalijia-3 is on VHF 12 9.50 AM | There is no communication, and the two ships collide in the vicinity of Prongs Reef Lighthouse
    Chitra starts leaking hydraulic oil 10 AM | A message is sent to the Indian Coast Guard Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre 10.45 AM | The Coast Guard sends its ship Kamladevi to the scene. The Mumbai Port Trust (MbT) sends tugs to rescue the crew aboard Chitra.
BETWEEN 10.45 AM AND 1 PM | 33 crew members are rescued, but four are left on board to help in the salvage and dewatering operations
    The MSC Chitra has tilted to 25 degrees and is discharging two to three tonnes of oil by the hour
    Khalijia-3 has been brought to the Mumbai Port 7.30 PM | The 4 crew members desert the ship. There is no sign of the Singapore-based salvage company that has was brought in earlier in the day to help with the operations
At 1 pm, a Coast Guard helicopter arrives with an anti-pollution dispersion spray system. A naval architect is also sent aboard the ship
    MbPT has also roped in five barges for the fuel to be drained from Chitra
    A salvage company is also brought in

The listing MSC Chitra disgorges tonnes of oil into the Arabian Sea off the Mumbai coast

ON DANGEROUS WATERS: The MSC Chitra is leaking two to three tonnes of oil by the hour after it collided with Khalijia-3 on Saturday morning. On July 18, Khalijia-3 was grounded off Mumbai's coast after it sprouted a lea

More rain lashes Pakistan, deepening flood crisis

ISLAMABAD — More rain soaked flood-ravaged Pakistan on Saturday and even heavier downpours were forecast in the coming days, deepening a crisis in which hard-line Islamist groups have rushed to fill gaps in the government's patchy response.

Pakistani officials estimate as many as 13 million people throughout the South Asian nation have been affected by the rising waters. About 1,500 people have died, most of them in the northwest, the hardest-hit region.

The intense flooding that began about two weeks ago has washed away roads, bridges and many communications lines, hampering rescue efforts. Incessant monsoon rains have grounded many helicopters trying to rescue people and ferry aid, including six choppers manned by U.S. troops on loan from Afghanistan.

The national government's response has appeared chaotic at times, and confidence in its ability to cope has been shaken by the decision of President Asif Ali Zardari to visit France and Europe amid the crisis.

Floodwaters receded somewhat Friday in the northwest, but downpours in the evening and early Saturday again swelled rivers and streams. Pakistani meteorologist Farooq Dar said heavy rains in Afghanistan were expected to make things even worse over the next 36 hours as the bloated Kabul River surged into Pakistan's northwest.

That will likely mean more woes for Punjab and Sindh provinces as well, as new river torrents flow east and south.

Authorities have given varying tolls for the number of people among Pakistan's 175 million population impacted by the floods.

The United Nations said 4 million people had been affected, including 1.5 million severely, meaning their homes had been damaged or destroyed. But Pakistani officials have put the figure much higher.

In the northwest and Punjab, floods have displaced 12 million people, said Amal Masud, an official with the National Disaster Management Authority. In Sindh province, about 1 million people have been evacuated or are currently being helped out of their homes, said Jam Saifullah, the provincial irrigation minister.

The United Nations said the disaster was "on a par" with the 2005 Kashmir earthquake — which killed about 73,000 people — in terms of the numbers of people needing assistance and damage to infrastructure.

Some 30,000 Pakistani soldiers are rebuilding bridges, delivering food and setting up relief camps in the northwest, which is the main battleground in the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban. Foreign countries and the United Nations have donated millions of dollars.

The U.S. has tapped soldiers from its war effort in Afghanistan to operate four Chinook and six Black Hawk helicopters to evacuate people from the northwest's Swat Valley and carry aid there. Around 85 U.S. soldiers are involved, though the rain has limited their flights.

Also helping in the relief effort are Islamist charities, including the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation, which Western officials believe is linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The group has been officially banned, but the prohibition has been challenged in court and is unevenly enforced.

Foundation head Hafiz Abdur Rauf said the group is running 12 medical facilities and providing cooked food for 100,000 people every day. The foundation helped out after the Kashmir earthquake under a different name.

"In the next phase, we will start providing shelters, but presently providing food and medicines to the flood victims is our priority," Rauf said.

He criticized government officials, saying they did little beyond hold news conferences and make announcements. But he welcomed the U.S. effort.

"Every helping hand and donation is welcome," he said.

Associated Press Writer Ashraf Khan in Sukkur contributed to this story.

He predicted landslide in ’06

Record-Holding Geologist Caught In Cloudburst

Chandigarh: For Ritesh Arya, a geologist camping in Chuglansar village, his worst fears and predictions about Leh came true. He claims he had predicted a dangerous mudslide after his research on rocks in the area in 2006. What he couldn't anticipate was he would be right in the middle of it.
    Speaking to TOI on phone from Leh, Arya, who was sleeping in a house in Chuglansar village when the entire area abruptly began to move, said: "This village is 6 km from Leh on a hillock formed by mud itself. I woke up when I felt massive vibrations and found that the whole hill-side was moving.''
    The loose soil had softened further due to torrential rains. "This is a rare geological phenomenon, and though landslides are common, mud creeps like this are unheard of,'' said Arya, who holds a Guinness World Record for discovering ground water at an altitude of 11,000 ft in Ladakh.
    Describing the sheer size of the mudslide, Arya said: "Its dimensions make it so
scary: it was about 20-meter high and several kilometers wide.'' All the houses coming in its way appeared to just dissolve into it as it roared on, destroying the Leh bus stand and the BSNL exchange.
    The mudslide is believed to have travelled 6 km, bulldozing the Chuglansar village. Arya said most roads have disappeared under the debris. The worst hit are the heritage buildings and old houses, traditionally made of mud.
    "People were completely caught unawares. Then suddenly, everyone started scrambling as the enormous amount of loose mud and debris was unleashed. Those who survived in the Chuglansar village had to wade through five-ft high mudflow,'' said Arya. "There are bodies still buried in the debris and I found arms and legs sticking out at several places. No one knows how many are dead."


It'll Take Days To Restore Phone & Air Links, Roads Even Longer

Chandigarh: With road and air connectivity disrupted and phone lines down, Leh has been cut off from rest of the world since Thursday night. The severe disruption in communication system has affected the rescue work undertaken by the army as well as other paramilitary personnel.
    According to sources, it will take days to restore the telephone system and air connectivity, while the road network would take even more time.
    The road approaches to Leh from Srinagar through Zozilla and from Rohtang passes have been cut off as small bridges have been washed away.
    The closure of air and road network will also affect the supply of essential commodities in Leh town that witnessed heavy damage due to cloud burst on Thursday
night. Fearing shortage of essential commodities, people have already started storing milk and vegetables.
    The Manali-Leh road is closed at two points, one at Rohtang pass due to landslides at Rahni nullah, and another at Darcha as the bridge has been washed away.
    The Leh airport runway and the ATC tower have been badly affected as thick mud has accumulated in these areas. Air operations from Leh have been shelved and efforts were under way to clear the airbase to ensure supply of essential commodities from Chandigarh and Delhi.
    The Centre is rushing a 140-member team of National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) along with doctors and paramedical staff in an IL-76 IAF aircraft to Leh for relief and rescue operations. Massive rescue operations involving the state police, paramilitary personnel and the army in Leh town are already under way. A senior home ministry official said, "Six thousand army and ITBP personnel fully acclimatised to the atmosphere in Leh are there and they are engaged in rescue operations."
    The district hospital and two buildings housing offices of the Union home ministry were also affected. All commercial flights from Delhi to Leh were cancelled. The IAF has opened a disaster management cell at Chandigarh, consisting of three senior officers including medical officers.

Missing Link
Road approaches to Leh from Srinagar through Zozilla and from Rohtang passes cut off as small bridges are washed away
Manali-Leh road closed at two points
Thick mud covering Leh airport runway and ATC tower
Closure of air and road network to affect supply of essential commodities in Leh town

(Clockwise from top) Relief workers rescue people after a house complex is destroyed in flash floods in Leh on Friday; A truck, caught in the natural disaster; Swirling waters indicate the trail of destruction caused by the sudden overnight downpour and flash floods

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