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23 hurt as fire, blasts rock Philippine army munitions depot

Posted: 06 May 2014 11:24 PM PDT

MANILA, May 7, 2014 (AFP) - Twenty-three people were injured when fire and a series of explosions struck a Philippine army munitions depot near the country's financial district Wednesday, officials and witnesses said.

Local television footage showed uniformed soldiers carrying some of the injured on stretchers away from a burning building enveloped in black smoke, while three other victims sat on the pavement awaiting medical help.

"I was a few metres (yards) away when the fire broke and caused a loud explosion," army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Noel Detoyato told reporters.

Twenty-three people were treated at a nearby Philippine army hospital, with five soldiers and a civilian among them later moved to other hospitals because they had serious injuries, Colonel Rovelene Bambao, a medical doctor, told AFP.

Eight soldiers, seven firefighters and a civilian were among the injured, Detoyato said. The identities of the seven others were not immediately known.

The cause of the blaze which razed the munitions supply depot at the Philippine Army Reserve Command was being investigated, he added.

The fire apparently triggered explosions among munitions stored there, he added.

The isolated building is located a few minutes' drive from the Makati financial district in Manila.

Detoyato said the army had ordered the evacuation of nearby offices and commercial buildings as a precaution.

"There is still a possibility there could be more explosions. The area is still very hot, and ammunition reacts to heat," he said.

An AFP photographer saw seven men being treated for various injuries at the army hospital.

"We were hit by flying bricks and broken glass as we retreated from the building," volunteer Manila fireman Agrifino Santos told AFP.

The 40-year-old fireman said his team was dispatched from a nearby district to respond to the fire in late morning and had emptied their water cannon at the blaze when explosions began.

"We hit the ground immediately but we got hit nonetheless," said Santos, his head heavily bandaged and his back scorched after his shirt ignited.

His six colleagues had apparently less serious cuts on their legs and hands.

Philippine Army deputy spokesman Captain Anthony Bacus told reporters he heard a series of small blasts "like firecrackers" as he sat at another army building nearby shortly after the fire alert was raised.

"After about 15 minutes there was a huge explosion," he added.

Shallow 6.1-magnitude quake strikes PNG

Posted: 06 May 2014 10:39 PM PDT

SYDNEY, May 7, 2014 (AFP) - A shallow 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck off Papua New Guinea's Bougainville Island on Wednesday, the US Geological Survey said, but no tsunami warning was issued.

The offshore quake was just one kilometre deep (around half a mile) and centred 96 kilometres southwest of the town of Panguna.

Quakes of such magnitude are common in PNG, which sits on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire", a hotspot for seismic activity due to friction between tectonic plates.

"It's quite normal for that area," duty seismologist at Geoscience Australia Hugh Glanville told AFP of the quake.

"There would have been some shaking on the island but we don't expect much damage."

Glanville said the tremor was not considered large enough to generate a tsunami.

Small Australian marsupials in sudden decline

Posted: 06 May 2014 10:14 PM PDT

SYDNEY: Small, furry marsupials such as the bandicoot, quoll and tree possums are in dramatic decline in Australia's north and feral cats could be the cause, according to analysis reported Wednesday.

Chris Johnson, a wildlife conservation professor from the University of Tasmania, said small mammal species were at risk of extinction across the continent, but the changes in the north were marked.

"There's a pretty clear picture and it shows that lots of species have declined dramatically," Johnson told AFP.

"Where we can infer the timing of decline, it's been fairly recent and there are now large areas where small mammals are either very rare or don't exist but the habitat looks like it should support small mammals."

Johnson said while scientists discussed the changes as a "new wave of decline" it was not clear how sudden it was except that it became very noticeable in the early 1990s, particularly in places such as Kakadu National Park, a conservation area in the Northern Territory.

About 20 small native mammals have disappeared from Kakadu in recent decades including rat-like bandicoots, northern quolls, tree possums, and the weasel-like phascogale, he said, adding that similar declines had occurred elsewhere.

New analysis from a database of current mammal populations reported to a meeting of experts in Canberra Wednesday has allowed researchers to compare the current wave of extinction across different species, with those in the past, Johnson said, adding it revealed some common factors.

"First, the extinctions are occurring mainly in ground-dwelling animals of small body-size which live in open, dry habitat. This points the finger of suspicion strongly at an introduced predator - the cat," he said.

"We have seen similar extinction patterns driven by predators like foxes in southern Australia - so the big question was: 'Is history repeating itself, or is it something new?'"

He said the declines were in species eaten by cats, an animal believed to have been introduced with European settlement in the late 1700s.

"Where there are no cats there have been no declines," he said.

He said because cats had been around for so long and the declines were more recent, the question was what had changed to make them such a damaging predator.

Johnson said the use of fire by graziers seemed to have played a role as well, given there had been no significant land clearing or evidence of disease in northern Australia.

"It is probably no one thing, but the data points to a combination of several effects - all of which tend to favour the hunting style adopted by cats which places small ground-dwelling animals at greater risk," he said. -AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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