Powerful earthquake hits southwest Mexico

Five months after a major earthquake devastated Mexico City, a powerful tremor has struck the country again. A helicopter carrying government officials who were to examine the damage crashed in an unrelated incident.

People stand on the street after an earthquake shook buildings in Mexico City, Mexico February 16, 2018

A powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit southern Mexico on Friday, causing minor building damage and panic in the capital, just five months after an earthquake killed hundreds of people.

The US Geological Survey put the epicenter 37 kilometers (22 miles) northeast of Pinotepa de Don Luis in the southwestern state of Oaxaca. This was away from major urban centers, but it was powerful enough to leave tall buildings swaying for more than a minute in Mexico City, more than 400 kilometers (250 miles) away.

Shortly afterward, a magnitude 5.8 aftershock hit with a similar epicenter.

Local media published images and videos showing bricks and rubble that had fallen from buildings, and products falling off shelves in a supermarket.

Helicopter crash kills 13

Also on Saturday, officials said a helicopter with the Mexican interior minister and a state governor on board crashed near the center of the earthquake in the country’s south, killing 13 people on the ground.

Interior Minister Alfonso Navarrete and Oaxaca governor Alejandro Murat had been on their way to examine the scene left by the earthquake when the accident happened.

Navarrete told Mexico’s Televisa network that a number of the helicopter’s passengers were injured and that the pilot of the military helicopter, which had flown from Mexico City to Pinotepa de Don Luis, some 37 kilometers (22 miles) southwest of the epicenter, lost control of the chopper 40 meters above the ground as it was coming in to land.

Read more: Waterfalls dry up after Mexico quakes

Fear of a repeat

Panicked residents ran into the street in Mexico City, fearing a repeat of September’s deadly earthquake.

“To be honest, we’re all pretty upset. We start crying whenever the [earthquake] alarm goes off. We’re stressed out, we have flashbacks. So we run out into the street. It’s all we can do,” 38-year-old publicist Kevin Valladolid told the Agence France-Presse news agency through tears in central Mexico City.

“It was awful,” Mercedes Rojas Huerta, 57, told The Associated Press, too frightened to go back inside. “It started to shake; the cars were going here and there. What do I do?”

Interior Minister Alfonso Navarrete said there had been some superficial damage to buildings in Oaxaca, but that no deaths had been reported.

The US National Weather service said it was not issuing a tsunami alert.

Read more: Mexico City honors earthquake victims in Day of the Dead parade

aw/cmk (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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Watch video01:48

Buildings at risk of collapse after Mexico quake


Bridge collapse in Colombia kills 10 construction workers, several missing

The collapse occured in the mountainous region of Chirajara in central Colombia. The 446-meter-long bridge was set to be opened in March as part of a major highway linked to the capital Bogota.

Bridge collapse in Colombia (picture-alliance/dpa/Ministerio de Transporte/colprensa)

At least 10 construction workers died and several were injured after a partially constructed bridge in central Colombia collapsed on Monday.

The laborers were working on the bridge’s drainage system when the incident occurred. The victims fell 280 meters (920 feet) into a ravine in Chirajara about 95 kilometers (60 miles) from the Colombian capital of Bogota.

Nine of the workers were killed immediately and a tenth worker died of his injuries in a nearby hospital. Several laborers were injured and 11 are reportedly missing.

The agency in charge of the project, Coviandes, said that the injured have been taken to a hospital in Villavicencio, the capital of the department of Meta.

Authorities said they are investigating the cause of the collapse and trying to find out how many people were on the structure.

Watch video00:42

Bridge collapses in Colombia

“4G” infrastructure program

The 446-meter-long bridge was set to be inaugurated in March as part of a highway connecting Bogota to the city of Villavicencio.

Transportation Minister German Cardona flew over the site of the collapse later on Monday and visited rescue staff on the ground with Dimitri Zaninovich, the head of the national infrastructure agency.

The bridge and road overhaul are a part of the country’s massive “4G” infrastructure program that is attracting billions of dollars in private-public partnership investments to improve Colombia’s transportation system with eight bridges and five tunnels.

Read more: 

– Fatal motorway bridge collapse in Italy

– Prague bridge collapse leaves 4 injured

– London-Channel highway reopens after truck crash, bridge collapse

amp/jm (Reuters, AP, dpa)


Peru earthquake: Casualties reported after powerful quake hits south coast

A strong earthquake has struck off the coast of southern Peru, killing at least one person and injuring more than 60. The jolt damaged roads and homes, and authorities warned the death toll could rise.

A man and a child in the rubble in Peru (Reuters/D. Ramos)

The 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Sunday at 4:18 a.m. local time (0918 UTC) in the Pacific Ocean, 40 kilometers (25 miles) offshore from the town of Acari in Peru’s Arequipa region, the US Geological Survey reported.

Peru’s Geophysics Institute said it had measured a magnitude of 6.8.

Read more: Magnitude 7.6 earthquake hits coast of southern Chile

The powerful tremor caused 171 homes to collapse, displacing the same number of families, Peru’s National Emergency Operations Center said on its website. At least 736 families had been affected in some way by the tremor, they added.

Roads also collapsed and left several municipalities without power.

Watch video03:33

Why do Earthquakes happen?

Officials said the only confirmed fatality was a 55-year-old man, who died in the town of Yauca after being crushed by rocks.

Read more: Waterfalls dry up after Mexico quakes

Peru’s Civil Defense Institute (INDECI), which is coordinating emergency help, said 65 people were injured.

Many of those injured were in Caraveli province, a coastal area dependent on fishing and mining that is popular with tourists, officials said.

INDECI chief Jorge Chavez said damage to roads was hampering efforts to reach the worst-affected areas. Workers used large tractors to clear away boulders and debris that crashed down and blocked some roads.

Aid for victims

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski traveled to the towns of Chala and Acari, where he said the quake had toppled around 100 houses.

“We are going to send everything that is needed, such as tents for people whose homes were destroyed,” Kuczynski told reporters.

The US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially warned that “hazardous tsunami waves are forecast for some coasts” and that large swells could hit Peru and Chile. But it later downgraded the threat and said no tsunami waves had been spotted.

Earthquakes are fairly common in Peru, which is on the so-called “Ring of Fire” — an arc of fault lines that circles the Pacific Basin. A 2007 quake in the country’s southern Ica district killed 595 people. In November 2015, two major 7.6 magnitude earthquakes hit eastern Peru near the border with Brazil.

The tremor comes as Pope Francis prepares to visit Chile and Peru from January 15-21.

Some damage occurred in communities that Pope Francis was scheduled to visit this week, but officials said the damage would not change the pontiff’s tour.

Map of Peru showing Arequipa and Lima

law,nm/ng (Reuters, AP, EFE, dpa)


Venezuela: A country in meltdown

Venezuela’s inflation rate is already the highest in the world but is set for a new record. Even in the capital, people are struggling to afford basic goods and services on incomes once regarded as more than adequate.

woman standing in front of near empty supermarket shelf (Getty Images/AFP/J. Barreto)

Venezuela, a country of 30 million people, sits on the world’s largest oil reserves but has been suffering a massive economic downturn since global crude prices fell dramatically three years ago.

The government has not published inflation data for more than a year. But the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has forecast an inflation rate of 2,350 percent for 2018.

In an attempt to cushion the effect of inflation at the end of December, the Venezuelan government implemented the sixth wage and pension increase in a year, raising the minimum wage by 40 percent.

A grinding challenge to live

“In the mornings, you see well-dressed people looking for leftovers in the garbage before going to work,” Miguel Angel Hernandez, a 24-year-old lawyer who is in the middle of his MA studies, told DW.

Watch video01:47

Venezuelan chocolates thriving amid socialist chaos

“With a salary like mine, people used to be able to buy a car and make a down payment on a house. I can’t afford to buy a pair of shoes. Facing this reality destroys your expectations,” he said.

“Inflation is eating up almost everything,” said a 38-year-old lawyer who works at a public agency and has asked to remain anonymous. “Now I go to the supermarket to buy shampoo, and one bottle is almost what I make in a fortnight. Lately, there’s been a shortage of sugar. I found one bag last week for 105,000 bolivars. But I earn only 650,000 bolivars a month.”

Cristina Carbonell (Cristina Carbonell)Christina Carbonell: ‘No running water for days’

Cristina Carbonell is a lawyer who works at ProVene, an organization that offers free legal advice. She confirms that everyday life in the capital has become a challenge.

“Our ID number determines which day of the week we go to the market. But with basic products like milk, you get only two liters. Last week, we had no running water for three days. The constant shortage has caused outbreaks of fungus and scabies – and I’m talking about Caracas.”

Medical emergency

Protests erupted in the slums of Caracas in late December, triggered by bottlenecks at state-sponsored outlets where up to 20 staple foods are available at subsidized prices. Angry demonstrators set fire to garbage and chanted “We are hungry” as they protested against the food shortages.

 Venezuela lacks the foreign exchange reserves needed to import groceries and everyday necessities. Several rating agencies already have certified the South American country as partially bankrupt.

Lorena Surga, the founder of the aid movement Angeles Invisibles, works with doctors in Colombia who buy drugs for three Venezuelan hospitals and donate their medicine samples as well.

“Birth rates have increased. There are no birth control pills. The number of people affected by sexually transmitted diseases has grown because there are no condoms. Cancer patients are dying because there are not enough drugs to complete their treatment. Some are being treated with expired ones,” she said.

Venezuelan looking for food among garbage (Menta Producciones)Some people have been reduced to searching for food among garbage

Police violence

In May 2017, thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets to protest the humanitarian crisis and the political changes after socialist President Nicolas Maduro stripped the opposition-ruled Congress of power.

“I marched several times, and each day police forces were more repressive,” Cristina Carbonell recalled. “A policeman shot my brother-in-law at point-blank range with a pellet. I couldn’t leave my office to help him because police were shooting at passers-by.”

In November 2017, the NGOs Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Penal Forum published a joint report on the human rights violations committed by Venezuelan armed forces during the protests last May and in the months that followed. Tear gas, water cannon and pellets were systematically used. The rubber pellets were often even filled with marbles, broken glass or metal bolts to cause injury and pain.

“The protests were repressed more brutally than before,” said Tamara Taraciuk, a senior HRW Americas researcher.

“Just look at the numbers: In 2014, 43 people died in the protests and 800 were injured. In 2017, 124 people died and 2,000 were injured,” she said.

The HRW report also mentions several cases of torture in detention centers. It says men, women and teenagers were subjected to electric shocks, ruthless beatings, sexual abuse and asphyxiation and detained along with dozens of others in small, unventilated cells with a minimum amount of water and food.

Venezuela Caracas Protest ARCHIV (pictutre-alliance/NurPhoto/R. Camacho)Police have been accused of brutally repressing the protests

Mass exodus amid rising crime

Some sociologists estimate that as many as 2 million Venezuelans have left the country since the late President Hugo Chavez took power in 1999, though this figure is disputed by the Maduro government.

Read more:

 Could there be a Venezuelan refugee crisis?

 UN chief offers Colombia help with Venezuela migration crisis

“People are locking their homes and leaving with what they can carry,” says aid worker Lorena Surga.

The crime rate is also rising, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV), an organization created by the Venezuelan Laboratory of Social Studies in 2005.

It says 28,479 people were killed in 2016, which translates to a soaring homicide rate of 91.8 per 100,000 inhabitants in the whole of the country. This compares with a rate of 90 per 100,000 the year before. In Caracas, the rate is even higher, with the OVV saying there were 140 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016.

People searching in garbage (Menta Producciones)The situation is dire for many ordinary Venezuelans

Even the official homicide figure released by the Venezuelan attorney general’s office for 2016, though much lower than the OVV statistic, is still among the world’s highest, at 70.1 per 100,000 inhabitants.

“I feel I’m living in a prison. I go from home to work to school and have to get back before 8 p.m. because it’s too dangerous. So far the government’s fight against criminal bands has failed,” says Hernandez.

“A year ago I started a master’s program with 36 fellow students,” he says. “Now we’re only twelve. Some have left the country and others dropped out because the semester went from costing 29,000 bolivars to 497,000.”

“Next year I might also leave – for Peru or Argentina,” Hernandez concludes. One gets the impression that he feels there is no other choice.

Watch video02:00

Venezuelans make money from nothing


Chile: Attackers firebomb churches ahead of Pope Francis visit

A pamphlet left at one of the churches threatened to place the “next bomb” in the pope’s garments. The Catholic Church has fallen out of favor in Chile, with the president urging citizens to welcome him with “respect.”

Police at one of the churches firebombed by assailants championing indigenous rights

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on Friday urged the country to welcome Pope Francis in a “climate of respect” after three Catholic churches were firebombed days before the pontiff’s visit.

“In a democracy, people can express themselves as long as it’s done in a pacifist way,” said Bachelet. “What happened last night is very strange. It’s not something that we can tie to a particular group.”

Read more: Chilean Catholics protest bishop over alleged cover-up of child abuse

At one of the churches, a pamphlet threatened the pope, saying: “The next bomb will be in your robe.”

Another pamphlet supported the cause of the Mapuche indigenous people, who are fighting for ownership of ancestral lands. “We will never submit to domination of our bodies, our ideas and actions,” it said.

‘Minor’ damage

Chilean police have launched investigations into the attacks in the Chilean capital, Santiago. Police chief Gonzalo Araya said it was still unclear who the perpetrators were but warned it may have been “anarchist groups.”

Read more: The main differences between Catholics and Protestants

Authorities have dismissed the attacks as having any significance, with Interior Ministry official Mahmud Aleuy describing the damage to the churches as “minor.”

A billboard welcoming Pope Francis is seen near Las Palmas Air Force Base in Lima's district of Santiago de Surco AFP PHOTO / Cris BOURONCLEDespite growing discontent with the Catholic Church, more than 500,000 people are expected to gather for the pontiff’s visit

Stained reputation

The Argentine pope’s visit to Chile marks the first of its kind since the late pontiff St. John Paul II made a trip to the South American country in 1987.

Since then, the Catholic Church has lost much of the respect it gained during the reign of the late dictator Augusto Pinochet, when bishops criticized the regime for human rights abuses.

Read more: Catholic ex-priest refuses to speak at sexual abuse trial in Germany

Most notably, the Catholic Church’s handling of a disgraced preacher accused of several instances of sexual abuse has remained a stain on its reputation after the Vatican sentenced him to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” in 2011, a punishment viewed as grossly insufficient by the victims.

Pope Francis is expected to arrive on Monday and is scheduled to visit the capital before moving north toward Peru.

Watch video04:53

Vatican: Revelations of a gay priest

ls/cmk (AP, Reuters, AFP)


10 American tourists killed in private plane crash in Costa Rica

10 American tourists killed in private plane crash in Costa Rica
A plane carrying ten American tourists has crashed in the mountains of Costa Rica leaving no survivors, the government has confirmed.

On Sunday, a small aircraft operated by two local pilots crashed in the mountainous region of Punta Islit, in Guanacaste, Costa Rica with 10 Americans on board.

“The Government of Costa Rica deeply regrets the death of 10 American passengers and two Costa Rican pilots in the aircraft crash” President Luis Guillermo Solis said in a statement.

The single-propeller Cessna 208 Caravan plane, part of the Nature Air fleet, went down just moments after takeoff from Punta Islita Airport on its way to Juan Santamaria International Airport. When the rescue crew reached the scene of the crash, they found no survivors as the aircraft ignited on impact. The Public Safety Ministry shared images of the aftermath of the crash on social media, confirming the fatalities.

“The authorities are concentrating on the process of recovering the bodies, which will be transported to the forensic medicine facility in San Joaquín de Flores,” Costa Rica’s president said, confirming the investigation into the causes of the accident will begin Monday. “All emergency services were activated from the moment the first alert was received at 12:13 pm,” he said.

The US State Department also confirmed the deaths of “multiple” Americans in the tragic incident, declining to identify the victims “out of respect for their families.”

“We express our condolences to all those affected by this tragedy. We are in contact with Costa Rican aviation authorities and will continue to monitor the situation,” it said. “The protection of US citizens overseas is one of the highest priorities for the State Department. We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance to affected US citizens.”

Courtesy: RT

Losses from global disasters in 2017 exceeded $300bn

Losses from global disasters in 2017 exceeded $300bn
Economic losses from natural and man-made disasters have soared by 63 percent in 2017 to an estimated $306 billion, according to a report from reinsurance firm Swiss Re.

The company estimates, insured losses from natural and man-made disasters around the world was approximately $136 billion, up from $65 billion in 2016.

This is “well-above the annual average of the previous ten years, and the third highest since… records began in 1970,” Swiss Re said in its report.

The reinsurance firm said insured losses from disasters have exceeded $100 billion in a number of years.

“The insurance industry has demonstrated it can cope very well with such high losses,” said Martin Bertogg, Head of Catastrophe Perils at Swiss Re.

“However, significant protection gaps remain, and if the industry is able to extend its reach, many more people and businesses can become better equipped to withstand the fallout from disaster events,” he added.

According to Swiss Re, “Globally, more than 11,000 people have died or gone missing in disaster events in 2017.”

The US was hardest hit, including by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, “which have made 2017 the second costliest hurricane season” after 2005, the company said.

 hurricane death toll to be recounted as official low figures challenged https://on.rt.com/8v3u 

Puerto Rico hurricane death toll to be recounted as official low figures challenged — RT US News

The governor of Puerto Rico has ordered a recount of all deaths since Hurricane Maria, after accusations that the government under-counted the storm-related deaths, which were estimated to be ten…


The economic losses from the three hurricanes will be much higher given the significant flood damage – often uninsured – from hurricane Harvey in densely populated Houston, Texas, an extended power outage in Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria, and post-event loss amplification.

“There has been a lull in hurricane activity in the US for several years,” said Kurt Karl, Swiss Re’s Chief Economist. “Irrespective, there has been a significant rise in the number of residents and new homes in coastal communities since Katrina, Rita and Wilma in 2005, so when a hurricane strikes, the loss potential in some places is now much higher than it was previously.”

Courtesy: RT