Danish rescue diver praises Thai ‘cool’ kids in Mission Impossible

Search and rescue coordinator Narongsak Osotthanakorn (centre) announces that all 12 boys and their coach have been safely rescued from their cave in Thailand. Image: Bangkok Post

A Danish diver involved in the mission to successfully save 12 boys and their football coach from flooded Tham Luang cave in Thailand has hailed the children as “incredibly strong”, reports the Bangkok Post.

Ivan Karadzic, who runs a Thai diving business, described their treacherous escape journey as unprecedented.

“They [are being] forced to do something that no kid has ever done before. It is not in any way normal for kids to go cave diving at age 11,” he said Ivan Karadzic.

“They are diving in something considered [an] extremely hazardous environment in zero visibility. The only light that is in there is the torch light we bring ourself,” he told the BBC in an interview.

The boys, aged from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, ventured into Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district on June 23.

They became trapped when heavy rains flooded the cave. Two British divers found them on July 2 on a slope in pitch darkness 4km inside the cave.

More than 100 divers have helped with the extraction. Conditions were so dangerous a retired Thai Navy Seal died on Friday while trying to lay out oxygen tanks underwater in a tunnel, and the rescue chief at one point dubbed the operation “Mission Impossible”.

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Oxygen tanks
Karadzic, who was stationed about half-way along to replace oxygen tanks, said the rescue workers had feared the worst.

“We were obviously very afraid of any kind of panic from the divers,” Karadzic said.

“I cannot understand how cool these small kids are, you know?

“Thinking about how they’ve been kept in a small cave for two weeks, they haven’t seen their mums. Incredibly strong kids. Unbelieva­ble, almost,” he added.

The chief of the Tham Luang mission officially announced last night that the rescue of all 13 people trapped in the cave had been accomplished and the restoration of the area would follow.

Rescue operation chief Narongsak Osotthanakorn told a media conference at the Pong Pha Tambon administration organisation near Tham Luang cave that the last group of five trapped people had been extracted.

A doctor and three divers who had been with the 13 people since their discovery had also already reached the main entrance of the cave.

All rescued … the Thai boy cavers. Image: Bangkok Post

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

‘We’re stuck in the river – please come quickly’ cry before being swept away

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: ‘We’re stuck in the river – please come quickly’ cry before being swept away

Tragically drowned … Sheenal Mudliar , pictured with her surviving husband Sandeep Mudliar. Image: The Fiji Times

By Felix Chaudhary in Lautoka

“We’re stuck in the river, please come quickly.”

These were the last words spoken by a distraught daughter to her father-in-law as floods engulfed the vehicle she was travelling in.

Sheenal Mudliar, 25, and her father, Veer Goundar, had left Damodran Mudliar’s Uciwai home in Nadi about 4.30am on Sunday for Nadi International Airport to pick up her younger brother who was arriving from New Zealand.

About 15 minutes later she was calling for help.

“The rain was pouring and the wind was also quite strong, and when I got to the Uciwai Bridge at about 5.10am, I couldn’t see anything,” the distraught canegrower said.

“My daughter-in-law’s voice kept going round and round in my head and I got out of my car with a friend and we crossed to the bridge to try and look for them.”

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Mudliar said the current was strong which made the search difficult.

‘We kept looking’
“We kept looking for about half-an-hour and when the water level went down a little bit, I drove to Nawai Police Post and reported the matter.”

Sheenal’s husband, Sandeep, was too grief-stricken to speak about the tragedy.

A search party organised by the family with the assistance of nearby villagers recovered Mudliar’s body at 9.30am on Sunday and Goundar was found about 4.30pm the same day.

Mudliar said the family was awaiting police to complete post-mortem examinations before making funeral arrangements.

Evacuation centres not ready
Evacuation centres were unprepared for the flooding and responses were slow.

No water, no food and no assistance for infants, young children and the elderly was the scene at St Andrews Primary School, Nadi, yesterday.

More than 500 people sought shelter there early Sunday morning after the Nawaka and Namotomoto rivers broke their banks.

Between the hours of 5am to 8am, residents of Nawaka Village and Nawajikuma and Nawaka tramline settlements waded through waist deep fast-flowing floodwater to seek shelter at St Andrews.

However, when they got to the school, the gates were locked.

The evacuees said they had no option but to climb over and enter the school.

“They had nowhere else to go and they only know St Andrews, it’s a safe place for them,” said Litia Taylor, a Nawaka resident and community liaison.

Evacuees reduced
When The Fiji Times arrived at the school yesterday morning, the number of evacuees had been reduced to 275.

“When evacuees arrived here, the school had not been informed that it was to open as an evacuation centre.

“We had people sitting in the veranda, many of them were shivering because they were wet from the floodwaters and we had mothers with young children who had no warm clothes or food.

“The classrooms were opened up about 11am.

“I have assisted government teams that visit St Andrews during past disasters and this has got to be the worst situation we have ever faced.

“There was no drinking water and whatever was coming out of the taps was brown and dirty.

“What was very disappointing is that no one from the District Officer Nadi’s office has visited the school to see what the needs are.”

When contacted yesterday morning, acting DO Nadi Faiyaz Ali said he was in Nausori and was making his way to Nadi.

Ali said his team was on the ground and conducting assessments of all evacuation centres in Nadi.

‘Worse than 2009 floods’
Local Government Minister Parveen Kumar described the crisis as worse than the 2009 floods, reports The Fiji Times‘ Shayal Devi.

He said this after surveying Ba’s central business district and residential areas that had been hit by floods from Tropical Cyclone Josie.

He provided meals and rations as part of immediate relief assistance.

“I can say without any hesitation that this is worse than 2009,” Kumar said.

“Every household has the same story in a sense that within a few minutes, the water came in and they were not able to save anything.”

Lautoka-based Felix Chaudhary is a senior journalist with The Fiji Times.

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‘Scary’ floodwaters engulf homes in western Fiji as 4 die over Easter

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: ‘Scary’ floodwaters engulf homes in western Fiji as 4 die over Easter

A vehicle is swept away into a drain by strong currents at Waimalika in Sabeto, Nadi, in western Fiji yesterday. Image: Baljeet Singh/The Fiji Times

By Felix Chaudhary in Lautoka

“It was scary, we’ve never seen anything like it.”

That’s how a Natabua, Lautoka, man described the experience residents had as they fled to higher ground early yesterday after “raging floodwaters” engulfed their homes.

Tropical Cyclone Josie never made landfall but the storm dumped a lethal amount of rainfall over Easter weekend that resulted in four confirmed deaths and one missing person’s report.

As life-threatening floodwaters continued to rise late yesterday in at least two towns in the Western Division, the National Disaster Management Office confirmed that 18 evacuation centres had been activated in Nadi, Lautoka and Nadroga.

Late yesterday the police also advised people living in low-lying areas and near waterways to move to higher ground.

Punishing and unrelenting overnight rain drenched the entire Western Division, flooding many homes, sweeping away cars, disrupting flights, damaging crops, and forcing the closure of many roads.

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The first reported tragedy was that of Sheenal Mudliar, 25, and her father Veer Gounder, 55.

They were travelling in a vehicle that was swept off a bridge at Uciwai on the outskirts of Nadi yesterday morning.

Police recover bodies
Police managed to recover both bodies yesterday.

In Ba, Saroj Lata, 50, of Vatulaulau, reportedly lost her life while attempting to flee floodwaters that had engulfed her home. The body of a 55-year-old male was also recovered in Lautoka.

In Nadi, 21-year-old hotel worker Ilaisa Nabou went missing while attempting to cross a waterway in Sabeto.

Meanwhile, yesterday afternoon the Navua River also broke its banks.

In Lautoka, Sekiva Knight said the homes located on the corner of the Queens and Natabua roads were almost completely engulfed by floodwater.

“That place usually floods on the road and in their compounds,” he said.

“This is the first time that the floodwaters covered their homes with up to almost 2m of water.

Water to ceiling
“Some of the houses had water almost up to the ceiling.

“People were awoken by the floods at about 5am and they just got up, grabbed their loved ones and ran.

“They had no time to collect any belongings or valuables, they even left their cars behind.”

Knight said a Chinese family was trapped inside their home and were unable to leave because of the strength of the current.

He said military officers rescued the family about 7am.

Also in Lautoka, residents of Qaliwalu settlement were forced to flee their homes at about 4am after the Saru river burst its banks.

Ravindra Lal, a resident, helped evacuate three families and moved them to higher ground.

“This settlement always floods but this time the flood was different,” he said.

“It came in so fast and the current was so strong. They have lost everything.”

Resurrection services
Serafina Silaitoga reports from Labasa that hundreds of Fijians braved the rainy and cold weather condition to celebrate Christian resurrection church services in the North over Easter weekend.

Believers of the Nasea Methodist Church Sunday School programme that included primary and secondary school students organised a weekend camp aimed at enhancing their spiritual growth.

Catholics travelled from around the northern island of Vanua Levu to be part of the resurrection mass on Saturday night in Labasa, many sitting bravely in partially wet clothes during the service.

Felix Chaudhary is a senior Fiji Times journalist.

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Tiny Timbulsloko fights back in face of Indonesia’s ‘ecological disaster’

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Tiny Timbulsloko fights back in face of Indonesia’s ‘ecological disaster’

Drone views of the village of Timbulsloko showing the scale of coastal erosion and sinking flatlands in an area that once used to to be rice fields on the edge of the Central Java city of Semarang. Mangroves are being rapidly re-established. Drone footage source: CoREM. Video: David Robie’s Café Pacific

By David Robie in Semarang, Indonesia

A vast coastal area of the Indonesian city of Semarang, billed nine months ago by a national newspaper as “on the brink of ecological disaster”, is fighting back with a valiant survival strategy.

Thanks to a Dutch mangrove restoration programme and flexible bamboo-and-timber “eco” seawalls, some 70,000 people at risk in the city of nearly two million have some slim hope for the future.

An area that was mostly rice fields and villages on the edge of the old city barely two decades ago has now become “aquatic” zones as flooding high tides encroach on homes.

Onetime farmers have been forced to become fishermen.

Villagers living in Bedono, Sriwulan, Surodadi and Timbulsloko in Demak regency and urban communities in low-lying parts of the city are most at risk.

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Residents have been forced to raise their houses or build protective seawalls or be forced to abandon their homes when their floors become awash.

The lowland subsidence area in north Semarang leading to the volcanic Mt Urganan and Mt Muria/Medak.  Source: CoRem (UNDIP), 2017.

Environmental changes in Semarang have been blamed by scientists on anthropogenic and “natural” factors such as tidal and river flooding – known locally as rob, mangroves destruction since the 1990s, fast urban growth and extensive groundwater extraction.

Climate change
This has been compounded by climate change with frequent and extreme storms.

It has been a pattern familiar in many other low-lying coastal areas in Indonesia, such as the capital Jakarta and second-largest city Surabaya.

The Jakarta Post headline on 2 February 2017. Image: PMC

In February, The Jakarta Post reported that both Jakarta and Semarang faced environmental crises.

Citing Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) researcher Henny Warsilah, a graduate of Paris I-Sorbonne University in France, who measured the resilience of three coastal cities – Jakarta, Semarang and Surabaya – the Post noted only Surabaya had built sufficient environmental and social resilience to face natural disasters.

Jakarta and Semarang, Warsilah said, “were not doing very well”. Although Surabaya was faring much better with its urban policies.

The National Geographic Indonesia banner headline in October 2017. Image: PMC

The fate of some five million people living in Indonesia’s at risk coastal areas – including Semarang — was also profiled in the Indonesian edition of National Geographic magazine last month under the banner headline “Takdir Sang Pesisis” – “The destiny of the coast”.

The introduction asked: “”The disappearance of the mangrove belt now haunts seaside residents. How can they respond to a disaster that is imminent?”

Ongoing reclamation
According to The Jakarta Post, Semarang “has ongoing reclamation projects in the northern part of the city, which threaten to submerge entire neighbourhoods in the next 20 years”.

Urban erosion and land subsidence in Semarang city. Note the raised house second from left, the other sinking dwellings on either side have been abandoned to the tidal waters. Image: David Robie/PMC

“The more [the city] is expanded, the more land will subside because the region is a former volcanic eruption zone, and it is a swamp area,” says Warsilah.

“With the progression of the reclamation projects, the land is not strong enough to withstand the pressure.”

With a team of international geologists and researchers attached to Semarang’s Center for Disaster Mitigation and Coastal Rehabilitation Studies (CoREM) at Diponegoro University, I had the opportunity to visit Timbulsloko village earlier this month to see the growing “crisis” first hand.

City planners might see the only option as the residents being forced to leave for higher ground, but there appear to be no plans in place for this. In any case, local people defiantly say they want to stay and will adapt to the sinking conditions.

An unnamed local shopkeeper who has three generations of her family living in her Timbulsloko home and she doesn’t want to leave in spite of the sea encroaching in her house. Image: David Robie/PMC

One woman, a local shopkeeper, who has a three-generations household in the village with water encroaching into her home at most high tides, says she won’t leave with a broad smile.

I talked to her through an interpreter as she sat with her mother and youngest daughter on a roadside bamboo shelter.

“I have lived here for a long time, and I am very happy with the situation. My husband has his work here as a fisherman,” she said.


A local storekeeper with her mother and youngest daughter – three generations live in her Timbulsloko village home. Video: David Robie’s Café Pacific.

‘We don’t want to leave’
“We live with the flooding and we don’t want to leave.”

A raised house at low tide in Timbulsloko. Image: David Robie/PMC

She also said there was no clear viable alternative for the people of the village – there was no plan by the local authorities for relocation.

Later, she showed me inside her house and how far the water flooded across the floors. Electrical items, such as a television, had to be placed on raised furniture. The children slept on high beds, and the adults clambered onto cupboards to get some rest.

The village has a school, community centre, a mosque and a church – most of these with a sufficiently high foundation to be above the seawater.

However, the salination means that crops and vegetables cannot grow.

The community cemetery is also awash at high tide and there have been reports of eroded graves and sometimes floating bodies to the distress of families.


Timbulsloko’s village cemetery. Video: David Robie’s Café Pacific

We were warned “don’t touch anything with your hands” as the flooding also causes a health hazard.

Research projects
The situation has attracted a number of research projects in an effort to find solutions to some of the problems, the latest being part of the 2017 World Class Professor (WCP) programme funded by the Indonesian government.

Two of the six professors on the University of Gadjah Mada’s WCP programme, in partnership with Diponegoro University, are working with local researchers at CoREM.

WCP programme professors Dr David Menier (centre) and Dr Magaly Koch (right) talk to CoREM director Dr Muhammad Helmi on the Timbulsloko village wharf, near Semarang. Image: David Robie/PMC

They are geologists Dr Magaly Koch, from the Centre for Remote Sensing at Boston University, US, and Dr David Menier, associate professor HDR at Université de Bretage-Sud, France, who are partnered with Dr Muhammad Helmi, also a geologist and director of CoREM, and Dr Manoj Mathew. Both Dr Mathew and Dr Menier are of LGO Laboratoire Géosciences Océan.

The stages of flooding in the Semarang study area. Source: Ramkumar & Menier (2017)

“At the regional scale, the rate of subsidence is related to the geological and geomorphological context. North Java is a coastal plain that is very flat, silty to muddy, influenced by offshore controlling factors (e.g., wave, longshore drifts, tidal currents, etc.) and monsoons, and surrounded by volcanoes,” explains Dr Menier.

Controlling factors along the Semarang coastline. Source: CoRem, (UNDIP)

“Locally, anthropogenic factors can play a serious role as well.”

He says that coastal plains are dynamic. However, human activities are fixed – “the first contradiction”.

“Humans want to control and continue their livelihood, and are reluctant to accept changes related to their own activities or natural factors.”

Dr Menier says the subsidence is due to many factors, but some key issues have never been studied.

On a long term scale, the active faults of the area need to be examined in a geodynamic context and also volcanic activity with Mt Urganan and Mt Muria/Medak.

“We need to have a better understanding of the age of the coastal plain in order to reconstruct the past, explain the present-day and predict the future,” he says.

“Colonisation in the 17th century-Dutch period probably led to destruction of ecosystems (mangrove) and fine sediment usually trapped by plants has been stopped.”

Dr Koch adds: “Subsidence rates and their spatial distribution along the coastal plain need to be studied in detail using InSAR techniques. Groundwater abstraction (using deep wells) is probably happening in the city of Semarang but not necessarily in Demak.”

Expanding mangroves protection at Timbulsloko, Demak regency. Image: David Robie/PMC

Mangrove restoration
Mangrove restoration and mitigation has been used successfully to restore coastal resilience and ecosystems in Timbulsloko.

While noting that “high failure rates are typical” due to wrong special being planted and other factors, Dr Dolfi Debrot, of a Dutch project consortium, argues “given the right conditions, mangrove recovery actually works best without planting at all.”

The consortium involves Witteveen+Bos, Deltares, EcoShape, Wetlands International, Wageningen University and IMARES.

However, community planting is also a strategy deployed in the lowland villages.

Mangroves revitalise aquaculture ponds for crab and shrimp farming.

A “growing land” technique borrowed from the muddy Wadden Sea in the Netherlands has also been used successfully at Timbulsloko and other villages.

Semi-permeable dams are built from bamboo or wooden poles packed with branches to “dampen wave action”. In time, a build up of sediment settles and allows mangroves to grow naturally.

CoREM director Dr Muhammad Helmi … praises the contribution of flexible “eco” seawalls. Image: David Robie/PMC

“These eco-engineering seawalls are better than the concrete fixed barriers,” says Dr Helmi. “The permanent seawalls in turn become eroded at their base and eventually fall over.”

Dr David Robie is on the WCP programme with Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta.

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