Iran-Iraq earthquake: 407 people dead from devastating quake in border region

Death toll in magnitude 7.3 quake climbs as rescuers continue search for survivors in badly-hit Iranian town of Sarpol-e-Zahab.

The number of people killed in an earthquake that struck Iran's western province has risen to 407, officials have said.

Iranian state news said on Monday that most of the casualties are from the border town of Sarpol-e-Zahab in Kermanshah province. Behnam Saeedi, a spokesman for the country's crisis management headquarters, was quoted by the semi-official Fars and Tasnim news agencies as saying the death toll was now 407.

A further 6,700 people have been injured, and the emergency services warned the toll was likely to increase as they gained access to more remote mountainous areas.

A total of 70,000 people are in need of emergency shelter across fourteen affected provinces around the country, the Iranian Red Crescent warned in a statement.

Rescue workers continued to search for survivors among the rubble of damaged homes throughout the day despite the difficulties posed by landslides and the health ministry put out a call for emergency blood donations. 

Dozens of buildings and the only hospital in the town of 30,000 people was also badly damaged by the tremors.

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The earthquake struck near the Iraq-Iran border (US Geological Survey)

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has offered his condolences and three days of mourning have been announced in Kermanshah. 

In Iraq, interior ministry spokesperson Brigadier General Saad Maan said seven people had died and 321 people were injured on the Iraqi side of the border in Iraq's self-ruled northern Kurdish region. 

Turkey, despite recent tensions over the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government's (KRG) controversial independence referendum, said on Monday it would send aid including tents, beds, heaters and food to help alleviate the situation, expressing "deep sadness" at the loss of life. 

The magnitude 7.3 quake was centered 19 miles (31 kilometres) outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja, the US Geological Survey said. It struck at a relatively shallow depth of 14.4 miles (23.2 kilometres), which usually leads to broader surface-level damage, and tremors recorded as far west as the Israeli coast of the Mediterranean and as far south as Baghdad.

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Philippines- Death Toll From Cebu Floods Rises to Ten

The death toll from the flash floods in the province of Cebu in Philippines has risen to ten and many are injured today.

Heavy rains poured nonstop over the province of Cebu on Sunday and submerged homes in the municipality of Carmen.70 families were displaced and 10 thousand were evacuated. The municipality is the hardest hit area.

Houses were damaged, fields were flattened, and trees were uprooted in Brgy. In Carmen the river overflowed, following raging waters from the mountain. Some of the residents survived by climbing to trees.

The local government has been busy distributing relief goods among the flood victims and the rescue operations continue.

During the reany season from June to Nov. an average of 20 typhons hit the islands leaving behind many dead and displaced people.

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Iran shocked by deadly fire, collapse of Tehran high-rise

TEHRAN, Iran — A historic high-rise building in the heart of Iran’s capital caught fire and later collapsed Thursday, killing at least 30 firefighters and leaving their stunned colleagues and bystanders weeping in the streets.

The disaster at the 17-story Plasco building, inadvertently shown live on state television, came after authorities said they repeatedly warned tenants about blocking stairwells with fabric from cramped garment workshops on its upper floors.

Firefighters, soldiers and other emergency responders dug through the debris into the night, looking for survivors. While it was not clear how many people were in the steel-and-concrete building, witnesses said many had slipped through a police cordon while the fire burned to go back inside for their belongings.

 
“They asked us … using loudspeakers to evacuate the building, but some people went inside again, saying their precious documents, their bank checks, their entire life was in their shops,” said witness Masoud Hosseini. “They went inside to fetch those documents. I felt like they cared about their belongings, checks and money more than their lives.
 

“Firefighters went inside to bring them out, and then suddenly the building collapsed,” Hosseini said.

Iranian authorities did not immediately release definitive casualty figures, which is common in unfolding disasters.

Iran’s state-run Press TV announced the firefighters’ deaths, without giving a source for the information. Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said more than 20 bodies of firefighters had been recovered by Thursday night.

Local state television said 30 civilians were injured, while the state-run IRNA news agency said 45 firefighters had been injured.

Firefighters began battling the blaze around 8 a.m., some 3 1/2 hours before the collapse. The fire appeared to be the most intense on the upper floors, the site of workshops where tailors cooked for themselves and used old kerosene heaters for warmth.

The building came down in seconds, shown live on state television , which had begun an interview with a journalist at the scene. One side collapsed first, tumbling perilously close to a firefighter perched on a ladder and spraying water on the blaze.

A thick plume of brown smoke rose over the site afterward, and onlookers wailed in grief.

“God willing, nothing happened to firefighters who were there,” the journalist said, then began crying.

Watching the disaster unfold was Masoumeh Kazemi, who said she rushed to the building because her two sons and a brother worked in the garment workshops on the upper floors.

“I do not know where they are now,” Kazemi said, crying.

In a nearby intersection, Abbas Nikkhoo stood with tears in his eyes.

“My nephew was working in a workshop there,” he said. “He has been living with me since moving to Tehran last year from the north of the country in hopes of finding a job.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed sorrow over the fire in a statement and praised the courage and sacrifice of the firefighters.

President Hassan Rouhani ordered Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli to investigate the disaster, IRNA reported. Rouhani also ordered the ministry to ensure the injured were cared for and immediately compensate those affected by the disaster. Rouhani, whose administration struck the nuclear deal with world powers, will probably be standing for re-election in May.

The cause of the blaze wasn’t immediately known. However, fire department spokesman Jalal Maleki said authorities had visited the building often to warn tenants about conditions there.

“Everyone stacked up goods outside their shops and in the staircases and corridors,” Maleki said. “We warned them many times, but they wouldn’t listen.”

In the hours after the collapse, authorities also described the building as having a “weak structure,” without elaborating.

Another fire broke out later Thursday at a building next to the collapsed tower, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. Firefighters worked into the night to extinguish it.

The Plasco building was an iconic presence on Tehran’s skyline, one of the first to rise against the backdrop of the snowcapped Mount Damavand. Opened in 1962, it was the first privately owned tower to be built during the era of the U.S.-backed shah, when oil money fueled the capital’s rapid development.

The tower, the tallest in Tehran at the time and just north of the sprawling Grand Bazaar, got its name from the plastics manufacturing company owned by its builder, Iranian Jewish businessman Habib Elghanian.

After the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the shah, Iran’s new clerical rulers had Elghanian tried on charges that included spying for Israel. He was executed by firing squad — an outcome that prompted many of the remaining members of the country’s longstanding Jewish community to flee.

The state-controlled Islamic Revolution Mostazafan Foundation took ownership of the building. The foundation, which has ties to the powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, made no immediate statement about the collapse.

The fire was the worst in Tehran since a 2005 blaze at a historic mosque killed 59 worshippers and injured nearly 200 others.

Thursday’s disaster stunned the city. Firefighters openly wept on the streets, holding each other for support. Dozens of people lined up to donate blood.

“It is a humanitarian duty,” said Gholamreza Heidari, a university student. “It is nothing compared to the dedication that our firefighters showed in rescuing people.”

 
 
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UN ‘estimates’ death toll in Yemen war surpassed 10,000

The death toll in the Yemeni conflict has surpassed 10,000 people, according to “estimates” from a senior UN official, amidst the ongoing chaos in the war-torn country suffering a tremendous humanitarian disaster.

Trends Yemen unrest

“I don’t know the figures but the estimates are that over 10,000 people have been killed in this conflict and almost 40,000 people injured,” UN Yemen Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick told the reporters at a press conference in Sanaa.

Read more Over 4,000 civilians killed, aid blocked, zero accountability – HRW’s wrap up of Yemen war

A Houthi armed man walks past destroyed houses in the old quarter of the northwestern city of Saada, Yemen January 11, 2017 © Naif Rahma

The estimates seem to be pretty rough, since McGoldrick stated in August last year that “at least 10,000 people” had been killed in the protracted conflict.

Previous estimates voiced by McGoldrick were based on “official information” from medical facilities in Yemen, but now, many areas in the war-ravaged country have no medical facilities left. Both local and internationally-supported hospitals have been struck by Saudi-led coalition planes in numerous incidents often blamed on “mistakes” and “bad intelligence.” The statistics are scarce as the dead are often buried without any official records.

“This is a war of aggression being waged by Saudi Arabia. Civilians are being targeted, they are not simply collateral damage,” Brian Becker, National coordinator of the ANSWER coalition told RT.

While McGoldrick gave no breakdown on civilian casualties, October figures from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), states the conflict has claimed the lives of at least 4,125 civilians and left at least 7,207 wounded, with the majority of the casualties caused by coalition airstrikes.

READ MORE: Over 4,000 civilians killed, aid blocked, zero accountability – HRW’s wrap up of Yemen war

“These people are committing war crimes routinely, systematically against the people of Yemen. This amounts to Holocaust, not just war crimes it’s Holocaust,” Kim Sharif, a human rights lawyer and director of Human Rights for Yemen, told RT.

“There are about 11 million people in this country who need some sort of protection in terms of human rights, to protect their dignity and their safety,” McGoldrick added at the press conference.

Yemen’s population in 2013 was estimated around 25 million people, which means that roughly a half of Yemenis experience problems with human rights’ implementation and thus need “some sort of protection.” Over 21 million people are in urgent need of “humanitarian assistance,” according to UN World Food Program (WFP) statistics.

“And there’s another 2.9 million living in acutely affected areas, who require legal and other types of support. Some of them are related to being displacement, some of it related to gender-based violence,” McGoldrick added.

Read more 'No food, no medicine, no money’: Yemeni town faces mass death by starvation

However, “legal type of support” might be actually not the most urgent need for Yemenis, since 7.6 million people are “severely food insecure” according to UN’s own statistics.

RT’s Arabic-language crew recently visited the district of Tuhayat on the Red Sea coast, one of these “acutely affected areas.” Most people there, including children, are starving, since the Saudi-led international coalition blockaded the coastal area and deprived the locals from fishing, which was their main source of food, coupled with a an absence of medical care.

The new UN revelations documenting the scale of the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Yemen, came as UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, arrived in the southern city of Aden, the temporary capital of the government of president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was reinstated by the Saudi-led intervention.

The UN envoy was expected to present a new peace plan to Hadi on Monday, according to a spokesman. Previous peace efforts failed, since Hadi urged the Houthis rebels to withdraw from all cities and lay down the arms, while the rebels are pressing for a political deal.

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Europe freeze claims more lives; death toll rises to 65

SOFIA: The death toll from the cold snap hitting parts of Europe rose to at least 65 on Wednesday as Bulgarian authorities reported seven fatalities.

They included a couple in their 80s, the only inhabitants of a village in the mountainous region of Smolyan in southern Bulgaria, who were found dead in their home on Saturday.

Elsewhere in the country two Iraqi migrants died in a snowstorm, a couple both aged 55 were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning caused by faulty heating and a homeless man froze to death.

Temperatures sank to minus 18 Celsius (minus 0.4 Fahrenheit) in the capital Sofia and Bulgarian authorities said electricity and gas demand have reached 20-year highs.

Most of the deaths over the past week have been in central and south-eastern Europe, with homeless people and migrants stranded in Greece, Serbia and elsewhere most at risk.

In Turkey snow over the weekend paralysed Istanbul, forced the closure to ships of the Bosphorus Strait and the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

Maritime traffic on rivers including the Danube, one of Europe's busiest waterways, has also been severely hampered.

In Greece on Wednesday, having been caught off guard and facing heavy criticism, the government sent a navy transport ship to the island of Lesbos, to house around 500 migrants still sleeping in tents.

Greece also announced a nationwide week-long hunting ban because of the cold weather gripping most of the country.

Agence France-Presse

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Tech failure & human error among main theories for Tu-154 crash, terrorism all but ruled out

The main theories as to why the Tu-154 crashed off Sochi’s coast include a “technical problem or piloting error,” Russia’s transport minister said. Meanwhile, the search operation for debris, black boxes and the bodies of those on board continues, with more ships, divers and aircraft arriving at the scene.

A terrorist act is not suspected among the main possible causes of the crash that killed 92 people on Sunday, Minister Maksim Sokolov said.

 
 A search operation near the Black Sea coast where a Tu-154 plane of the Russian Ministry of Defense crashed near Sochi. © Nina Zotina  Today, the main theories do not include terrorism, so we assume that either technical problems or a piloting error may have been the cause. But I stress that only an investigation, along with a special technical Ministry of Defense committee will tell us for sure,” the official told a briefing on Monday.

There are so far “no facts indicating a possibility of a terrorist act or diversion aboard the aircraft,” the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) also announced on Monday. According to the FSB data, among the main possible causes of the crash are penetration of foreign objects into the engine, faulty fuel, piloting error and technical failure.

There was no military or double-purpose cargo on the Tu-154, nor were there any pyrotechnical devices, the FSB said. During refueling in the airport in Adler, a district of the Black Sea resort of Sochi, there were no unauthorized people near the plane.

The search operation has been stepped up. Some 3,500 people are currently working in three shifts. 

Forty-five vessels and five helicopters, as well as drones, are now involved in the search operation, according to the latest information from the Russian Defense Ministry.

With updates coming in from emergency and investigative authorities, one of the reports said that a unit of the Emergencies Ministry “[has] discovered large parts of Tu-154 at a depth of about 27 meters,” RT's Ilya Petrenko reported from Sochi. The FSB said they had found witnesses of the crash and a dashcam footage that is currently being examined, he added.

The search zone around the crash site has been expanded, the Emergency Ministry said.

The flight recorders of the crashed Tu-154 haven't been recovered yet, the head of Russia's Emergency Ministry, Vladimir Puchkov, told TASS.

The Tu-154 was initially supposed to refuel in the city of Mozdok in North Ossetia, but due to bad weather the plane was redirected to another airport, “therefore, nobody knew beforehand that the plane would refuel at the airport in Sochi,” a security source told TASS.

After arriving in Adler, “only two border guards and one customs officer came onboard, and only one navigator shortly left the plane to control refueling,” the source added.

 
Elizaveta Glinka, head of the Fair Help Foundation © Sergey Pivovarov The Tu-154 transport plane had 92 people on board, including 84 passengers and eight crew members. It went missing over the Black Sea shortly after refueling at an airport near Sochi. Most of the passengers on board were members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, the official choir of the Russian Armed Forces.

READ MORE: 64 members of world-renowned Alexandrov army band lost in Tu-154 crash (VIDEO)

They were traveling from Moscow to the Russian military base in Khmeimim near Latakia, Syria, to take part in a Christmas celebration with the troops deployed there. The head of the choir, conductor, and composer Valery Khalilov, was also onboard.

The passenger list released by the Defense Ministry on Saturday also includes Elizaveta Glinka, a revered charity activist and humanitarian worker best known by her nickname “Doctor Liza.” 

The first plane transporting the victims’ remains has arrived safely in Moscow at Chkalovsky airport outside the Russian capital on Monday.

Russia is observing a nationwide day of mourning for the victims of the Tu-154 crash on Monday.

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At least 67 killed in construction accident at Chinese power plant

At least 67 people were killed Thursday when a platform that was under construction at the cooling tower of a power plant in eastern China collapsed, state media reported.

The incident happened at the Fengcheng plant in Jiangxi province at around 7 a.m. local time, the official news agency Xinhua said.

State TV reported that rescuers were trying to free one person who was trapped.

Five injured workers were taken to a local hospital, Xinhua reported. State broadcaster CCTV reported that more than 100 paramilitary police joined in the rescue effort.

Premier Li Keqiang said supervision and preventive measures should be improved to stop such a major accident from happening again.

Work on the $1.1 billion coal-powered plant is due to be completed in 2018, according to media reports.

Accidents are common at industrial sites in China. Anger is growing over lax standards, according to Reuters. In August last year, huge explosions and a fire at a chemical warehouse in the northeastern city of Tianjin killed more than 170 people and injured about 800.

Almost 50 government officials and company employees and managers were jailed over those blasts.

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India Train Crash Death Toll Hits 142

The tragedy has renewed concern about poor safety on the state-run network.

Indian rescuers on Monday called off a search of the mangled carriages of a derailed train after pulling more bodies from the wreckage, taking to at least 142 the number of passengers killed in the disaster.

Sunday’s derailment in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh was India’s deadliest train tragedy since 2010 and has renewed concern about poor safety on the state-run network, a lifeline for millions that has suffered from chronic underinvestment.

Rescue teams worked through the night with cranes and cutters to disentangle the train before police halted the search of the 14 carriages that derailed in the early hours, while most passengers slept.

“The rescue operations are over. We don’t expect to find any more bodies,” said Zaki Ahmed, the police inspector general in the city of Kanpur, about 65 km (40 miles) from Pukhrayan, the crash site.

The crash came during India’s busy wedding season and media said blood-stained bags of saris and wedding cards carried by at least one wedding party on board were scattered beside the wreckage.

The derailment injured more than 200 people, at least 58 of them seriously, officials said, as relatives thronged hospitals in a search for survivors.

A railways spokesman said the train carried 1,000 people traveling on reservations, but 700 more were estimated to have squeezed into the unreserved carriages.

Aging Badly

The largely colonial-era railway system, the world’s fourth largest, carries about 23 million people daily, but is saturated and aging badly. Average speeds top just 50 kph (30 mph) and train accidents are common.

The crash is a stark reminder of the obstacles facing Prime Minister Narendra Modi in delivering on his promise to turn the railways into a more efficient, safer network befitting India’s economic power.

Modi this year pledged record levels of investment and has announced a new high-speed line funded by Japan, but the main network has made little progress on upgrading tracks or signaling equipment.

He has also shied away from raising highly subsidized fares that leave the railways with next to nothing for investment – by some analyst estimates, they need 20 trillion rupees ($293.34 billion) of investment by 2020.

Modi on Sunday held a political rally about 210 km (130 miles) from the crash site in Uttar Pradesh, which heads to the polls early next year in an election his Bharatiya Janata Party is vying to win.

Politician Mayawati, who uses only one name, and is one of Modi’s biggest rivals in the state, said the government should have “invested in mending tracks instead of spending billions and trillions of rupees on bullet trains,” media reported.

Authorities are looking into the possibility a fractured track caused the train to roll off the rails on its journey between the central Indian city of Indore and the eastern city of Patna.

Sunday’s crash is India’s worst rail tragedy since the collision of a passenger and a goods train in 2010, which the government blamed on sabotage by Maoist rebels.

In 2005, a train was crushed by a rock and another plunged into a river, each disaster killing more than 100 people. In what was probably India’s worst rail disaster, a train fell into a river in the eastern state of Bihar of 1981, killing an estimated 500 to 800 people.

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