Seven injured in massive blaze at German theme park

A black column of smoke rises from a warehouse in flames above the amusement park ‘Europapark’ in Rust, southern Germany on May 26, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 27 May 2018
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Seven injured in massive blaze at German theme park

  • It took 250 firefighters until the next morning to extinguish the inferno, which sent huge columns of black smoke into the air.
  • The cause of the blaze remains under investigation

FRANKFURT: Seven firefighters were injured in efforts to put out a massive blaze at Germany’s largest amusement park, police said Sunday, as it reopened to visitors despite extensive damage to some areas.
The fire at Europa-Park started early Saturday evening in a storage facility before engulfing the Pirates of Batavia boat ride, completely destroying the attraction.
It took some 250 firefighters until the next morning to extinguish the inferno, which sent huge columns of black smoke into the air.
Dramatic images of the raging fire were widely captured by visitors to the theme park in Rust, southwestern Germany and shared on social media.
Some 25,000 people had to be evacuated from the park, but none suffered any injuries.
The local Offenburg police said in a statement that the blaze had left seven firefighters “lightly injured,” without giving details.
All of them were able to leave hospital after receiving medical attention.
Europa-park opened its doors as normal on Sunday, although large sections of the Dutch and Scandinavian-themed areas remain closed because of fire damage.
Europa-park’s chief executive Michael Mack tweeted his thanks for the rescue services, saying Saturday had been “a sad day” for the park.
The cause of the fire is still unknown. Police said some firefighters remained at the scene to carry out damping down operations and secure the area to allow experts to assess the damage.
Founded in 1975, Europa-Park is Europe’s second-most popular amusement park after Disneyland, attracting some 5.7 million visitors last year.


Amid wall debate, pope visits Panama with migration in mind

Updated 23 January 2019
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Amid wall debate, pope visits Panama with migration in mind

  • The pope is expected to urge young people to create their own opportunities
  • Francis’ trip, the first in a year packed with foreign travel, comes at a critical moment in the papacy

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis is looking to leave the sex abuse scandal buffeting his papacy behind as he heads to Central America amid a standoff over President Donald Trump’s promised wall at the US-Mexico border and a new caravan of migrants heading north.
History’s first Latin American pope, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, has made the plight of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy. He is also expected to offer words of encouragement to young people gathered in Panama for World Youth Day, the church’s once-every-three-year pep rally that aims to invigorate the next generation of Catholics in their faith.
Panama Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa said Francis’ message is likely to resonate with young Central Americans who see their only future free of violence and poverty in migrating to the US — “young people who often fall into the hands of drug traffickers and so many other realities that our young people face.”
The pope is expected to urge young people to create their own opportunities, while calling on governments do their share as well.
The visit is taking place as the US government remains partly shut down in a standoff between the Trump administration and Democrats over funding for Trump’s promised border wall.
Francis famously has called for “bridges, not walls.” After celebrating Mass in 2016 on the Mexican side of the US border, he denounced anyone who wants to build a wall to keep out migrants as “not Christian.”
Crowds are expected to be smaller than usual for this World Youth Day — only about 150,000 people had registered as of last week — but thousands more will certainly throng Francis’ main events, which include a vigil and a final Mass on Sunday. The Vatican conceded that the January date doesn’t suit school vacations in Europe or North America, both of which typically send huge numbers of pilgrims to World Youth Day gatherings.
Francis’ trip, the first in a year packed with foreign travel, comes at a critical moment in the papacy as the Catholic hierarchy globally is facing a crisis in credibility for covering up decades of cases of priests molesting young people.
The pope is expected to soon rule on the fate of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the high-powered US archbishop accused of molesting minors and adults. And he is hosting church leaders at the Vatican next month on trying to chart a way forward for the global church.
Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said there were no plans for Francis to meet with abuse survivors in Panama. Central America hasn’t yet seen the explosion of sex abuse cases that have shattered trust in the Catholic hierarchy in Chile, the US and other parts of the world.
This is the first papal visit to Panama since St. John Paul II was there during a 1983 regional tour that famously included an unscheduled stop at the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador. Romero had been gunned down by right-wing death squads three years earlier, at the start of El Salvador’s civil war, for having spoken out on behalf of the poor.
Salvadoran bishops had hoped Francis would follow suit and make a stop in El Salvador this time to pay his respects at Romero’s tomb since Francis canonized him in October. But the Vatican said a Salvador leg was never really in the cards.
Nevertheless, Gisotti said Romero would likely loom large at the Panama gathering, given he is such a point of reference for young Central American Catholics who grew up learning about his defense of the poor.
The Panama visit is also the first by a pope since the Vatican embassy played a crucial role during the 1989 US invasion of Panama, when dictator Manuel Noriega took refuge there and requested asylum on Christmas Eve after four days on the run trying to escape US troops.
Noriega eventually surrendered, bringing to an end one of the more unusual US military operations: It involved US troops blasting heavy metal and rock music — including Van Halen’s “Panama” — at the embassy to try to force Noriega out.
Noriega, a onetime US ally, eventually served a 17-year drug sentence in the United States. He died in 2017 after his final years were spent in a Panamanian prison for the murder of political opponents during his 1983-89 regime.