TIME China

As China Blast Toll Hits 50, Fears Mount Over Chemical Contamination

Rescue operations have been suspended while teams scan the area for harmful chemicals

An environmental expert says evacuation of the area around Wednesday’s mammoth warehouse blast in the Chinese port city of Tianjin is the “main priority,” and warned of the explosion’s long term consequences.

His words came as the death toll continued to rise, with at least 50 people dead and over 500 hospitalized, of which 71 are in critical condition, officials said Thursday. Several of the dead are reportedly firefighters.

“With a blast like this, normally you would expect the transport [of particulate matter] to be along the wind gradient or contours, but a blast this big must push it beyond that in the opposite direction,” Ravi Naidu, Director of the Global Centre for Environmental Remediation at the University of Newcastle Australia, told TIME. “Not just people but animals and other organisms would be exposed to certain chemicals.”

Rescue operations have been temporarily suspended while chemical teams scan the area for harmful materials as fears of airborne toxins mount.

“We are concerned that certain chemicals will continue to pose a risk to the residents of Tianjin,” Greenpeace Asia’s Beijing office said to TIME in an emailed statement. “According to the Tianjin Tanggu Environmental Monitoring Station, hazardous chemicals [that may have been at the blast site] include sodium cyanide (NaCN), toluene diisocyanate (TDI) and calcium carbide (CaC2), all of which pose direct threats to human health on contact. NaCN in particular is highly toxic. Ca(C2) and TDI react violently with water and reactive chemicals, with risk of explosion. This will present a challenge for firefighting and, with rain forecast for tomorrow, is a major hazard.”

The city in China’s northeast—located 150 km from the capital Beijing—was rocked by two massive explosions late Wednesday night, with videos released soon after the incident showing a massive fireball rising high into the air above a warehouse as well as a person killed by debris when the explosion shattered the glass wall he was approaching.

The blasts took place at around 11.30 p.m. local time at a warehouse belonging to Ruihai International Logistics, a transportation company that, according to its website, is involved in “cargo declaration, cargo transportation and warehouse storage of dangerous cargo.”

What appears to be video shot from a drone camera released Thursday morning showed the charred remains of hundreds of parked cars and several surrounding buildings, completely destroyed by the blasts. TIME was unable to independently verify the video’s original source.

A local resident with last name Xu, who lives in the Haigangcheng locality about a kilometer away from the blast site, told TIME he was watching TV at home when the explosion threw him to the ground in what he assumed was an earthquake. Shortly after, he and his family rushed out into the open and smelled the scorched air, he said, as pieces of glass and other debris began raining from the sky.

Many people cut by the showers of glass went to the Taida Medical Center, the hospital closest to the site and the one to which most of the injured have been taken.

Police, meanwhile, have set up check points three kilometers away from the blast site and are not allowing anyone to enter. Local media reports say hundreds of soldiers are being flown in to assist with evacuation and containment efforts.

Environmental expert Naidu says that the explosions’ long term effects will have to be monitored closely, particularly with regards to the soil in the area and the nearby buildings getting infused with toxic chemicals.

“Such explosions not only affect the environment but also the minds of people, psychologically quite a lot of people will be impacted and this is something that has to be taken into consideration,” he said.

With reporting from Gu Yongqiang/Tianjin

Read next: Here Are 5 of China’s Worst Industrial Disasters

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TIME olympics

Catching Up With the Stray Dogs of Sochi

Many of the stray dogs adopted by the Olympians are now settled in their new homes in the U.S.

Some athletes took home more than just medals at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Some took home new best friends.

Sports Illustrated visited the homes of athletes who rescued stray dogs to see how the pooches were settling in.

Watch above, and read more at SI.com

TIME Colombia

This Mother and Baby Survived a Plane Crash and Five Days Lost in the Colombian Jungle

“It’s a miracle”

A mother and her baby have miraculously been found alive five days after their plane crashed in thick jungle in northwestern Colombia.

Nelly Murillo, 18, and her 1-year-old son were discovered Wednesday not far from where the twin-engine Cessna plane had crashed near Quibdo in Choco province, reports the BBC. The cause of the crash is not yet known.

“It’s a miracle,” Colonel Héctor Carrascal of the Colombian air force told Agence France-Presse. “It is a very wild area and it was a catastrophic accident.”

According to the Colombian air force, Murillo suffered only minor injuries and burns and the baby was unharmed. The two were airlifted to a hospital in Quibdo.

“His mother’s spirit must have given him strength to survive,” said Carrascal of the infant.

Rescuers discovered the plane Monday with the body of the pilot, Captain Carlos Mario Ceballos, inside the cockpit.

[BBC]

TIME viral

If You Had Only Seconds to Spot a Drowning Child, Could You Do It?

This lifeguard does

Video has emerged on YouTube of what appears to be a lifeguard whose extremely fast reactions save a child from drowning in a crowded swimming pool.

The footage, posted by user Lifeguard Rescue, apparently shows a wavepool packed full of people, many on rubber rings. Ten seconds into the video, a child slips off his ring and looks to be struggling in the water, with his head bobbing under the waves.

Can you spot him? Nobody else appears to either—except a lifeguard, who immediately blows her whistle and dives in to save him.

TIME has not been able to verify where or when the footage was filmed, but it has been viewed more than 600,000 times since it was posted on Wednesday.

TIME migrants

The Private Sector Tackles Europe’s Migration Crisis

MOAS rescues migrants
Jason Florio/MOAS MOAS rescues migrants in the Mediterranean

While European government struggle to respond to a migrant crisis, one couple is making a difference on their own

A Private Sector Solution to the Migrant Crisis – Politico Europe

One of the more interesting pieces I’ve read came from this past weekend’s European edition of Politico. I’ve written myself about Europe’s growing migrant crisis, but I expected that whatever solution was proposed—be it good or bad—would come from European governments. Instead we get this story of Christopher and Regina Catrambone, who saw reports of refugees drowning off Europe’s shores and decided to act themselves. They bought a scientific research vessel in 2014 and founded the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), and in partnership with Doctors Without Borders have started patrolling European waters. From the Politico piece:

Founded by Christopher and Regina Catrambone in 2014, MOAS is the only private organization of its kind, and has saved the lives of more than 4,500 migrants stranded at sea. The group’s current mission, which began on May 2 and will run until the beginning of October, has already saved around 2000 souls…The M.Y. Phoenix doesn’t fly a national flag. MOAS is a private enterprise, the only one of its kind, so the movement of its vessels across the Mediterranean is virtually uninhibited, a tremendous logistical advantage. The enterprise costs the Catrambones, who describe themselves as “social entrepreneurs,” around € 400,000 a month. A German businessman, Juergen Wagentrotz, donated an additional € 186,000 worth of fuel. Chistopher Catrambone says other organizations have not offered to cooperate. He and his wife finance most of the project, and MOAS operates as a private philanthropy.

To date they’ve rescued over 4,500 migrants stranded at sea, providing them with food, water, clothing and medical care. Their ship doesn’t fly any flag, so it sails undisturbed through the Mediterranean. It’s a private sector solution to a public-sector problem, and the results so far are impressive. The Catrambones pay a substantial amount of the $450,000-a-month operating costs out of their own pockets. While they have found other “social entrepreneurs” like themselves to help defray the costs, they continue to need help with funding. (You can donate to MOAS on their MOAS.)

Most “non-state actors” we tend to hear about these days are terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS that constantly threaten to destabilize the world around them. Every once in a while it’s nice to hear about non-state actors like the Catrambones who are going above and beyond to make the world a better place. My pick of the week.

TIME Italy

Somber Images of the Migrant Crisis in the Mediterranean Sea

Warmer weather means more crossings on the Mediterranean

Thousands of migrants and refugees were rescued from smugglers’ vessels in the Mediterranean over the weekend, pushing the total number of arrivals in Europe this year to more than 101,000 as political leaders struggle with dividing the burden.

An estimated 101,900 migrants have made it to Europe since Jan. 1, the International Organization for Migration said Monday, including some 7,000 people who were rescued between June 6-8 in a maritime operation involving Britain, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Sweden. Italy and Greece have taken in the most, at more than 52,000 and more than 46,000, respectively.

The latest rescues illustrate the impact of warmer weather on the crossings, which received heavy attention earlier this year after the death toll from a number of shipwrecks between Italy and Libya—now a funnel into Europe for those fleeing conflict, poverty and persecution—quickly reached more than 1,800, well above the 425 recorded for the whole of 2014.

Broader search-and-rescue operations have been credited with the rising number of rescues, versus more deaths, as European Union member nations decide how is best to relieve the pressure of the influx.

Italian photographer Giulio Piscitelli has been documenting the crisis in the Mediterranean.

Read next: The Tiny Greek Island at the Center of the Refugee Crisis

TIME Colombia

A Baby Survived the Colombia Landslide That Killed 12 Members of His Family

A soldier shovels mud from a house damaged by a mudslide in Salgar, in Colombia's northwestern state of Antioquia, May 19, 2015.
Luis Benavides—Associated Press A soldier shovels mud from a house damaged by a mudslide in Salgar, in Colombia's northwestern state of Antioquia, May 19, 2015.

He was found alive in the mud more than a mile from his home

An 11-month-old baby has survived a huge mudslide in Colombia that killed at least 78 people.

The child’s mother and at least 11 other relatives perished when a flash flood swept through the town of Salgar in northwest Antioquia province Monday, destroying dozens of homes, reports the Associated Press.

Rescuers found Jhosep Diaz lying facedown in the mud more than a mile from his home. Doctors say the infant was cold and hypothermic but believe he survived because he was sleeping in a padded crib when he was swept away.

“He was unconscious and didn’t open his little eyes but was breathing,” Dr. Jesus Antonio Guisao told AP on Wednesday.

The mudslide was the country’s worst natural disaster since the earthquake of 1999 that killed about 1,000 people.

According to the Red Cross, between 50 and 80 people are believed missing, but authorities say there is no chance of finding any more survivors.

The boy’s grandfather Alvaro Hernandez is expected to gain custody. “My grandson’s survival is a miracle,” he said.

[AP]

TIME Nepal

Nepalese Villagers Fear Starvation and Sickness as Aid fails to Arrive

Communities are battling cold, hunger and despair

People are tenuously holding onto hope for food and shelter in Ghyangphedi, a remote village on the southern edge of Nepal’s Langtang National Park.

It’s been five days since a 7.8-magnitude earthquake reduced the village to a pile of rubble. But relief has yet to arrive and people are desperate.

“If we don’t get food, we will die,” says Prakash Tamang, whose son was killed when his house collapsed. “Please, send food for us.”

The drinking water is polluted. Landslides filled the nearby stream with mud, and the people have no way to filter it. The entire village of about 150 huddles under two large tarps, waiting for help. Most of the people sit with blank looks, trying to stay out of the afternoon downpour.

It’s rained nearly every day since the earthquake, sending temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius) at night.

Karmajit Tamang, a village leader who is trying to organize his people, says they were trying to dig blankets out of the rubble, but so far had only recovered a few.

The food supply is running low. Biscuits and ramen salvaged from a shop sit piled under a tarp, but the villagers worry that they only have enough for two or three days.

“The people need food, they are starving,” Santos, a local teenager, says.

Some of the village men managed to find a water buffalo that was killed in the earthquake. They quickly set to cutting off its meat. But health workers warn that this could also be a danger, with rotting meat threatening to make an entire community sick.

When the earthquake first hit, it killed five people in Ghyangphedi, which sits in a picturesque mountain valley. Most of the buildings in these areas are made of rock and mud, and had no chance of withstanding the earthquake. Landslides set off by aftershocks and rain continue to threaten the area.

The total death toll in Nepal now exceeds 5,500. Aid groups say that number could still rise as rescuers begin reaching remote villages like this one. Karmajit Tamang believes that there were even more people killed from landslides in the villages further up the valley.

Most people here were outside working in their fields when the earthquake struck, which minimized the loss of life. The survivors dug out the victims, grieved, and then burned their bodies.

Then came the struggle for survival.

“We need tarps and food, that is all we can ask for right now,” Karmajit Tamang says.

An army helicopter briefly landed a day after the earthquake and evacuated the most severely injured. But, since then, no troops, government officials or aid groups have returned to the isolated village. It is only about a six hour drive from the capital city of Kathmandu, but several landslides are blocking the road. Right now, it is accessible only by foot or helicopter.

“We are feeling lost,” Karmajit Tamang says. “We don’t know what to do.”

The survivors must face new kinds of danger. Sickness, exposure, and starvation threaten thousands of people trapped in remote areas.

This village is only one of hundreds cut off from relief supplies. In this corner of Nuwakot district, about 6,000 people are in need of basic supplies. U.N. officials say this number could be as high as 1.4 million across the country. On Wednesday, frustrated survivors took to the streets in Kathmandu to protest the slow pace of the rescue and aid effort.

Food and rice factories across Nepal and India are trying to meet the huge demand, but even in Kathmandu, food in large quantities is scarce.

“We are trying to find rice. We ordered some from factories, but they are saying it will be four or five days at least,” says Thir Koraila, the National Coordinator for MICHA, which is one of many organizations trying to facilitate relief efforts.

He had three trucks of rice mobbed by hungry crowds as it tried to get to Kathmandu. In Battar, a town only three hours from Kathmandu and accessible by road, a mob formed around a helicopter that was rumored to be delivering tarps.

Tirtha Raj Joshi of the Nepal Red Cross Society says they are trying to deliver supplies to the most remote mountain areas. But on Thursday, locals said by phone they had not received anything.

As Nepal begins the long process of relief and recovery, chaos continues to pervade the country. The U.N. estimates more than a fourth of the country’s population is affected.

But for the people in Ghyangphedi and hundred of more mountainous villages, all they can do is wait and hope that help arrives soon.

 

TIME Nepal

Watch This Touching Movie About the Aftermath of Everest Avalanche

"This is our tribute to the fallen."

Climbers on Everest who were caught in an avalanche triggered by Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal have made a short film about the hours and days following the disaster.

The touching video, created by Canadian filmmaker Elia Sailkaly, shows the moment the avalanche hit Everest’s base camp and the rescue efforts immediately following it.

“Our hearts go out to those affected by the earthquake in Nepal, and we pray for the more than 4,000 people who lost their lives on April 25, 2015,” the caption to the video reads. “This is our experience at Mount Everest Base Camp after the avalanche. This is our tribute to the fallen.”

TIME Nepal

Death Toll From Nepal Earthquake Crosses 5,000 as Rescue Teams Begin to Arrive at Remote Villages

Rescue Operations Continue Following Devastating Nepal Earthquake
David Ramos—Getty Images Nepalese victims of the earthquake search for their belongings among debris of their homes in Bhaktapur, Nepal, on April 29, 2015.

Periodic landslides and relentless rain continue to hamper rescue efforts

Rishi Khanal spent about 80 hours in a rubble-filled room with three dead bodies after the seven-story building he was in collapsed around him during Saturday’s massive earthquake in downtown Kathmandu. The 28-year-old was finally pulled out of the rubble on Tuesday, Reuters reports, by a Nepali-French rescue team combing the capital city for survivors.

“It seems he survived by sheer willpower,” said Akhilesh Shreshtha, a doctor who treated him, after it appeared that Khanal had no access to food or water for three days and escaped with nothing but a possible broken leg.

Khanal’s rescue was a heartening but rare story from the devastation in Nepal, where a 7.8-magnitude earthquake over the weekend killed more than 5,000 people. That toll is sure to rise significantly as rescue teams move away from Kathmandu, which they began to do early Wednesday, and reach devastated villages near the quake’s epicenter.

Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala said the total number of lives lost could ultimately exceed 10,000. “The government is doing all it can for rescue and relief on a war footing,” Koirala told Reuters. “It is a challenge and a very difficult hour for Nepal.”

More than 450,000 people have reportedly been displaced from their homes. As international aid teams from countries like India, China, Pakistan, the U.S., Israel and several others arrive and commence operations, there is also growing concern about the spread of disease and lack of food and water in rural areas.

MORE: 6 More Ways You Can Give to Nepal Earthquake Relief

“The situation is much more worrying in those districts,” Samuel Marie-Fanon, the regional rapid-response coordinator for the European Commission’s humanitarian aid and civil protection department, told the Washington Post. “The big rains have started, and all this week people are sleeping in the open. There is an obvious need for shelter and tents or tarpaulins. The priorities are water, food and, of course, medical assistance.”

Periodic landslides and relentless rain continue to hamper rescue efforts in districts like Sindupalchowk, about 50 miles from Kathmandu and one of the worst-affected areas. Houses in the district have been completely destroyed, the Post reported, with nothing but heaps of rubble piled over bodies.

The Post also wrote about Ratna Kumari Shreshtha, an elderly woman brought to Kathmandu after being rescued from Sindupalchowk. She expressed the grief and helplessness sweeping the country.

“No houses left, no houses left,” the paper quoted her as saying. “Everything is finished.”

Read next: International Aid to Nepal Ramps Up

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