- China earthquake toll rises to 164, injuries at 6,700
- Merkel party loses support after female hiring quota dispute - poll
- Residents return for look at Texas homes after deadly blast
Posted: 20 Apr 2013 07:17 PM PDT
YA'AN, China (Reuters) - Rescuers poured into a remote corner of southwestern China on Sunday as the death toll from the country's worst earthquake in three years climbed to 164 with more than 6,700 injured, state media said.
The 6.6 magnitude quake struck in Lushan county, near the city of Ya'an in the southwestern province of Sichuan, at a depth of 12 km (7.5 miles), close to where a devastating 7.9 temblor hit in May 2008 killing some 70,000.
Most of the deaths were concentrated in Lushan, a short drive up the valley from Ya'an, but rescuers' access was hampered by the narrowness of the road and landslides.
"The Lushan county centre is getting back to normal, but the need is still considerable in terms of shelter and materials," said Kevin Xia of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
"Supplies have had difficulty getting into the region because of the traffic jams. Most of our supplies are still on the way," Xia said.
Pictures on state television showed toppled buildings and people in bloodied bandages being treated in tents outside the Lushan hospital. Water and electricity in the area were cut off by the quake.
Premier Li Keqiang flew into the disaster zone by helicopter to voice support for the rescue operation.
Chen Yong, the vice director of the Ya'an city government earthquake response office, told reporters that the death toll was unlikely to rise by much more.
"We understand the situation in most areas. Most of the casualties have been reported. In some remote mountain areas, it is possible that we don't fully understand the situation," he said.
SCHOOLS WITHSTAND QUAKE
But no schools had collapsed, unlike in 2008 when many schools crumpled causing huge public anger, prompting a nationwide campaign of re-building.
"Our schools are the safest and sturdiest buildings," Chen said. "The Chinese government has put a lot of money into building schools and hospitals. I can guarantee that no schools collapsed."
Xinhua said 6,000 troops were in the area to help with rescue efforts.
Rescuers in Lushan had pulled 91 survivors out of rubble, Xinhua said. In villages closest to the epicentre, almost all low-rise buildings had collapsed, footage on state television showed.
The China Meteorological Association warned of the possibility of landslides in Lushan county, with more than 1,000 aftershocks registered.
Ya'an is a city of 1.5 million people and is considered one of the birthplaces of Chinese tea culture. It is also the home to one of China's main centres for protecting the giant panda.
Sichuan is one of the four major natural gas-producing provinces in China, and its output accounts for about 14 percent of the nation's total.
Sinopec Group, Asia's largest oil refiner, said its huge Puguang gas field was unaffected.
The U.S. Geological Survey initially put the magnitude at 7, but later revised it down.
In 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake killed 2,700 people in Yushu, a largely Tibetan region in northwest China.
(Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 20 Apr 2013 04:49 PM PDT
BERLIN (Reuters) - Support for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives has fallen by 2 percentage points to 39 percent after a dispute over quotas requiring companies to hire more women executives, an opinion poll published on Sunday showed.
Rebel members of Merkel's centre-right coalition, including Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen, threatened to break ranks and vote with opposition parties that wanted to introduce a female quota from 2018, convinced that voluntary pledges to appoint more women have proven inadequate.
Merkel averted the potentially embarrassing defeat in parliament when the rebels accepted a compromise plan obliging big firms to raise the proportion of women on supervisory boards to 30 percent in 2020.
Emnid said the incident was likely the reason for the conservatives becoming less popular with voters.
The weekly Emnid poll for German newspaper Bild am Sonntag showed the Free Democrats (FDP), the junior coalition partner in Merkel's centre-right government, has 5 percent support, unchanged from last week and enough for the liberal, pro-business party to enter parliament after the next election.
That would give the ruling government 44 percent support, close to the 47 to 48 percent usually needed for a parliamentary majority in a system where parties with less than 5 percent do not get any seats.
The poll showed the main opposition Social Democrats (SPD) remained unchanged at 26 percent support, while the Greens held steady at 14 percent, giving those parties 40 percent combined - not enough to beat the ruling government.
The socialist Die Linke party was also unchanged at 8 percent. The maverick Pirates gained one point to 4 percent.
The poll of 2,410 people was conducted between April 11 and 17.
(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Paul Simao)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 20 Apr 2013 04:19 PM PDT
WEST, Texas (Reuters) - Officials began allowing some residents to return to their homes on Saturday for their first look at the damage from a deadly blast at a Texas fertilizer plant.
Authorities set strict rules for those being allowed back inside the evacuated area. Only residents of certain streets were permitted to retrieve their belongings, and a 7 p.m. CDT curfew was set for those who chose to stay overnight.
"If they want to stay, it's at their own risk," said Steve Vanek, a West City Council member, who warned of broken nails and glass as potential hazards and a limited access to water and electricity.
The announcement came on a day when officials released few new details about the explosion on Wednesday night that flattened sections of this central Texas town, known locally for its Czech heritage and kolache pastries.
The fire and ensuing blast at West Fertilizer Co, a privately owned retail facility, gutted a 50-unit apartment complex, demolished about 50 houses and battered a nursing home and several schools. Dozens more homes were reported to have been damaged.
Authorities said the death toll remained at 14 in a town of some 2,700 people, with 200 people injured.
Most of the confirmed dead were emergency personnel who responded to the fire and likely were killed by the blast, which was so powerful it registered as a magnitude 2.1 earthquake.
Crews were working to restore running water to downtown businesses, and tractor trailers hauled portable classrooms into town for displaced students.
Officials said they were working hard to restore normality, but cautioned the process would take time.
"This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint," West Mayor Tommy Muska told several hundred people gathered for a town hall meeting.
"We need to prepare right now for the long haul," said Muska, whose home was made uninhabitable by the blast.
NO FOUL PLAY
Authorities have said there was no indication of foul play, although the investigation continues.
Donald Adair, a lifelong resident of West and owner of the plant's parent company, Adair Grain Inc, issued a statement on Friday saying he was heartbroken about the losses suffered by so many families in the community.
He added his company was "working closely with investigative agencies" and pledged "to do everything we can to understand what happened to ensure nothing like this ever happens again in any community."
The plant was last inspected for safety in 2011, according to a Risk Management Plan filed with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The company, which has fewer than 10 employees, had provided no contingency plan to the EPA for a major explosion or fire at the site. It told the EPA in 2011 that a typical emergency scenario at the facility that holds anhydrous ammonia could result in a small release in gas form.
The EPA fined the company $2,300 in 2006 for failing to implement a risk management plan.
Last year, the fertilizer plant stored 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
A person familiar with DHS operations said the company that owned the West plant did not tell the agency about the potentially explosive fertilizer as required, leaving one of the principal regulators of ammonium nitrate - which can also be used in bomb-making - unaware of any danger there.
FARMERS RELIED ON PLANT
For the farmers who grow corn, wheat, milo and cotton in the area, the fertilizer plant was critical to their operations. Not only did the plant mix fertilizer for farmers and deliver it if needed, but it had a steady business in sprayers and other equipment for applying the chemicals.
Talk of fines and safety violations at the plant have raised the ire of some who did business there and who do not know now whether to be angry, sad, or both.
"I know a lot of people are putting the blame on it," Danny Mynar, who farms about 2,000 acres (810 hectares) outside West, said of the plant. "But it served a lot of ranchers and farmers."
Mynar's cousin is married to one of the plant operators who is now assumed to be dead. The employee, Cody Dragoo, mixed the ammonium nitrate at the plant, said Mynar.
When the fire started, Dragoo, a volunteer firefighter, rushed to try to put it out. He has not been seen since, said Mynar.
"He was my best friend," Mynar said. "It is just a sad deal."
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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