Teary-eyed, hundreds search through rubble in devastated Philippines city

A woman looks at ruined houses, after residents were allowed to return for the first time to their homes on April 19, 2018, in Marawi, southern Philippines, since the battle between government troops and Daesh-inspired militants began in May 2017. (REUTERS/Erik De Castro)
Updated 21 April 2018
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Teary-eyed, hundreds search through rubble in devastated Philippines city

  • Daesh militants seized parts of the Muslim city of 200,000 people in May 2017, prompting massive evacuations
  • Damage to property was estimated at $211 million after government troops fought for five months to retake the city

MARAWI, Philippines: Surrounded by the ruins of homes they fled nearly a year ago, many residents of war-torn Marawi City in the Philippines were in tears when they briefly returned this week and sifted through rubble to salvage any possessions they could find.
The Muslim-majority city of 200,000 was over-run by militants loyal to the Daesh group last May, who fought the military for five months before they were ousted. After almost daily aerial bombardments and artillery fire, large parts of the picturesque, lakeside city have been devastated.
Hundreds of residents who had fled to refugee camps or to relatives’ homes in nearby towns were briefly allowed back by authorities to the ruins of the central business district on Thursday.
Calim Ali, 50, stepped out of her vehicle to find a ruined, empty plot where her home had stood in the bustling heart of the city. The only possession she could recover was a charred weighing scale that she said her family used in their fruit and rice business.
“I brought empty sacks. I thought we would still find something, like pots, and our money box,” Ali said, while her husband searched through the thick vegetation growing in the rubble.
Ali’s family is among about 27,000 others that lived in the main battle area, straddling over 24 barangays, or municipal districts. The area has remained off limits until this month, when the military said it had cleared it of hazards like booby traps and unexploded ordnance.
No civilian was permitted to stay in the area after 3 p.m. on Thursday, and the rule will remain in place on other days when visits are permitted, officials said.
There are 20 other barangays in the city which were not affected, and 50 others which were spared heavy shelling. Families have moved back to these areas.
There seems no chance of any early return for the residents of the city center.
Most buildings are in ruins and there is no food, electricity or any sewage facilities. Authorities say the area will take years to rebuild.
Meanwhile, posters showing residents how to recognize live mortar shells, grenades, aircraft rockets and improvised explosive devices were put up on every street, to remind the people to be careful as they sifted through the ruins.
Soldiers manning the area on Thursday ordered a group of residents scouring debris to quickly leave one of the streets after they found an unexploded bomb, which they detonated.

“Hurts so much"
“I’m at a loss for words,” Aisah Riga, 54, told Reuters, wiping away tears as she and her family rummaged through debris to find anything of use from what used to be their glass and aluminum supply store.
“This is our only source of livelihood and now it’s gone. I don’t know how we will survive. I have nine children,” she said.
Sobaidah Moner, 43, was waiting for the military to let the long line of vehicles into the main battle area as she recounted the day she and her family hurriedly left the city a day after fighting broke out on May 23.
“We were not able to bring anything except for the clothes we were wearing that day. All the clothes we are wearing right now were given to us by relatives,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion.
Like Moner, several residents who spoke to Reuters said they abandoned their belongings and only brought clothes for a few days when they sought safety in nearby towns, thinking that the gunbattle, which was not uncommon in Marawi, would soon be over.
“I thought the fighting would be over in three days. We didn’t expect this. It hurts so much,” Moner said.
Residents said they are pinning their hopes on the government’s promise to rehabilitate and rebuild the city. But the extent of damage, estimated at 11 billion pesos ($211 million) means it would take years of work to reconstruct Marawi.
“The most affected area has its own development plan which is expected to be finished by 2021,” said Felix Castro, housing assistant secretary, and field office manager of an inter-agency government task force named “Bangon Marawi (Rise Marawi).”
A Chinese-led consortium, also called Bangon Marawi, has been chosen for the reconstruction, but other bidders would be asked to compete and it will be allowed to match the best proposal, Castro said.
Rehabilitation work is scheduled to start in June, he said.
For now however, the once-bustling center of the city is lifeless.
“Before you could hear the sound of cars, and anything you wanted to buy was available. But now that we are here, there’s only silence,” said Jalil Solaiman, a 39-year-old resident.


Speed control on Taiwan train ‘malfunctioned’ before deadly accident

Updated 33 min 3 sec ago
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Speed control on Taiwan train ‘malfunctioned’ before deadly accident

  • The train came off the rails on a curve while moving at close to 140 kilometers per hour
  • Derailments are not uncommon in Taiwan, but deadly accidents are rare

YILAN, Taiwan: A speed control system was not functioning when a train in Taiwan crashed killing 18 people and injuring 187, in the island’s worst rail disaster in decades, a top investigator said on Tuesday.
It was not clear whether the system, called automatic train protection, had switched off by itself or had been manually disabled before the accident on Sunday, the head of a government-led investigation team, Wu Ze-cheng, said.
“If the train was above the speed limit, the system should automatically slow it down. It seems like the system had failed. Why? We need more investigation,” Wu said.
The train came off the rails on a curve while moving at close to 140 kilometers per hour, above the speed limit of 74 kph, Wu said.
More investigation was needed to determine the cause, he added.
The driver of the train, You Zhen-zhong, 48, was granted bail of T$500,000 ($16,167) on Tuesday after being detained for investigation, the Taiwan Railways Administration said.
You had been treated in hospital following the accident in Yilan county, in the island’s mountainous northeast.
The train data recorder, which tracks speed, among other things, had been sent to prosecutors to be examined.
The disaster was Taiwan’s deadliest rail accident since a 1981 collision that killed 30 people.
The head of the state railway administration, Lu Jie-shen, had offered to resign but that was not accepted by the transport minister, the railway authority said.
Premier William Lai apologized for the accident on behalf of the government.
“People expected the railway to be the safest,” Lai told parliament.
“I apologize to the people on behalf of the Executive Yuan,” he said, referring to the island’s cabinet.
Train derailments are not uncommon on the island, which has rough, mountainous terrain, but deadly accidents are rare.