New Zealand troops complete daring volcano mission to retrieve bodies

This handout photo taken and released on Dece. 13, 2019 by the New Zealand Defense Force shows elite soldiers taking part in a mission to retrieve bodies from White Island after the December 9 volcanic eruption, off the coast from Whakatane on the North Island. (AFP)
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Updated 13 December 2019

New Zealand troops complete daring volcano mission to retrieve bodies

  • The goal of the team from the bomb disposal squad was to recover the remains of eight people still on New Zealand’s most active volcano
  • White Island volcano sits semi-submerged 50 kilometers out to sea

WHAKATANE, New Zealand: Elite soldiers retrieved six bodies from New Zealand’s volatile White Island volcano on Friday, winning praise for their “courageous” mission carried out under the threat of another eruption.
At first light, two military helicopters set off from Whakatane airport for the offshore volcano, where an eruption last Monday killed at least 16 people and severely injured dozens more.
The goal of the team from the bomb disposal squad was to recover the remains of eight people still on New Zealand’s most active volcano, which sits semi-submerged 50 kilometers (30 miles) out to sea.
After a tense wait, while volcanologists monitored live seismic feeds for signs of another eruption, police said the majority of the bodies had been safely airlifted to a naval frigate anchored off the coast.
“Those staff showed absolute courage in order to ensure those six people were returned to their loved ones,” police commissioner Mike Bush told reporters, saying they were operating in an “unpredictable and challenging” environment.
Bush said efforts to locate the two remaining bodies were ongoing, with divers searching nearby waters after a corpse was seen floating in choppy seas on Tuesday.
Helicopters were also searching over the Bay of Plenty and Bush did not rule out a return to the island when conditions were safer.

Drone flights helped locate the six bodies on the caldera before the operation began and the eight-strong team labored to reach them in heavy hazmat suits and breathing gear that restricted movement.
Special forces commander Rian McKinstry said he was “incredibly proud” of the team, comprised of six men and two women.
“It was a unique operation, but unique operations are what organizations like the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squadron gets involved in,” he said.
On the eve of the operation, GeoNet vulcanologist Nico Fournier said the dangers facing recovery teams if an eruption occurred included magma, superheated steam, ash and cannonball-like rocks thrown from the caldera at supersonic speed.
As the military began their grim task, police took grieving families out near the volcano on a boat to perform a Maori blessing and locals chanted karakia, or prayers, on the shore as the island smoldered in the distance.
Despite the risk of an eruption inside 24 hours being put at 50-60 percent, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said those involved wanted to help grieving families.
“It has been an incredibly difficult operation but it’s been such a priority. We just want to bring everybody home,” she told Australia’s ABC Radio.
Many of the tourists who died on the island were Australians and Canberra’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne said they had been affected by a catastrophic event.

“This is a time of absolute desperation and distress, and to every single one of those families and their friends and their loved ones, our hearts go out at this extraordinarily difficult time” she said.
The bodies on the island are thought to include New Zealand tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman.




This handout photo taken and released by the New Zealand Defense Force shows elite soldiers taking part in a mission to retrieve bodies from White Island after the Dec. 9 volcanic eruption, off the coast from Whakatane on the North Island. (AFP)


His brother Mark Inman had epitomized relatives’ frustrations with stalled recovery efforts, criticizing “red tape, bureaucracy” but on Friday he praised the daring recovery attempt.
“It’s going to allow us to grieve and send our loved ones off in the manner they deserve,” he told the New Zealand Herald.
The recovery had been on hold for days as poisonous gases continued billowing from the volcanic vent and the island remained blanketed in a thick layer of acidic ash.
While troops were recovering the bodies, another 28 people — mostly tourists who had been on a day trip to see the natural wonder — were still being treated in hospitals across New Zealand and Australia, many in a critical condition suffering severe burns.
The survivors’ injuries are so severe New Zealand doctors initially estimated they would need to import 1.2 million square centimeters (185,000 square inches) of skin for grafts.
A total of 47 people were on the island during the eruption, hailing from Australia, the United States, Britain, China, Germany, Malaysia and New Zealand.
While Australian officials have only confirmed one dead, they say a further 10 were missing and presumed to have perished.
A coronial process has begun to identify those confirmed dead but police have said it could “take some time.”


Harris’ Indian heritage could boost Biden with Asian-American voters

Updated 13 August 2020

Harris’ Indian heritage could boost Biden with Asian-American voters

  • Harris, whose mother was from India and father from Jamaica, made history this week as both the first Black woman and Asian American to join a major-party US presidential ticket
  • Asian Americans are an oft-overlooked political constituency, making up less than 6% of the overall US population, but their numbers are quickly expanding in critical battleground states

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign plans to step up engagement with Asian-American voters this fall and is betting running mate Kamala Harris’ experience as the daughter of an Indian immigrant will resonate with the fastest-growing US minority population.
Harris, whose mother was from India and father from Jamaica, made history this week as both the first Black woman and Asian American to join a major-party US presidential ticket. Introducing her on Wednesday as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Biden said, “Her story is America’s story.”
Asian Americans are an oft-overlooked political constituency, making up less than 6% of the overall US population. But their numbers are quickly expanding in critical battleground states, and galvanizing their turnout could be enough to swing the outcome of November’s presidential election.
After Biden announced Harris as his running mate, Amit Jani, the campaign’s national director for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) outreach, said he saw an immediate surge of enthusiasm on social media and message boards and received calls from Asian Americans seeking to get more involved.
“Within the South Asian and Indian communities, there’s a level of excitement I haven’t seen before,” Jani said.
The Biden campaign has said it will devote part of a $280 million fall advertising blitz to AAPI outreach, including targeted buys in ethnic media.
While Asian Americans are far from monolithic and are comprised of many different ethnicities, they have supported Democrats overall in recent decades. In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton won AAPI voters over Republican Donald Trump by a 2-to-1 margin, according to a Reuters/Ipsos Election Day poll.
In states such as Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia and Texas – all of which are closely contested ahead of this year’s presidential election, according to opinion polls – the AAPI population grew more than 40% between 2012 and 2018.
That was more than triple the pace for all residents in each state, according to data compiled by AAPI Data and the nonpartisan advocacy group APIAVote. Indian Americans represent the largest Asian-American group in each of those states.
Trump’s 2016 victory came down to fewer than 80,000 total votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where more than half a million AAPI residents live.
“These are places where the Asian-American vote might mean the difference between victory and defeat,” Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor at the University of California-Riverside and the founder of AAPI Data, said of the various swing states.
In an effort to win support from Indian-American voters, Trump hosted a 50,000-person “Howdy Modi” rally in Texas with visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year. Modi returned the favor in February, organizing a 110,000-attendee rally for Trump in India.
Advocates said Harris’ background as a daughter of immigrants would resonate with Asian Americans of all ethnicities, given that two-thirds of the AAPI population are first-generation immigrants.
Harris described on Wednesday how her parents came from different parts of the world to the United States seeking opportunity and bonded over their commitment to justice.
“What brought them together was the civil rights movement,” she said.
That movement led to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which ended racial immigration quotas and opened the country to Indians and other immigrants, noted Neil Makhija, the executive director of IMPACT, which recruits and supports Indian-American candidates.
“She ties together all of our national threads in a way that no other public figure has ever done,” he said.
Varun Nikore, president of AAPI Victory Fund, a super PAC that backs Asian-American candidates, said Asian-American voters were turned off by Trump’s attempt to blame China over the coronavirus – including his use of racially charged terms like “China virus” and “kung flu.”
The pandemic has seen a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans, with more than 2,300 incidents from March 19 to July 15, according to the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council.
A Trump campaign spokesman, Ken Farnaso, said it has held more than 500 events geared toward Asian Americans since 2017, including events where immigrants or their relatives share stories about their escapes from socialist or communist regimes.
“With President Trump at the helm, the Asian Pacific American community can be confident they have the best advocate in the White House,” Farnaso added.
Historically, Republicans and Democrats have put little effort toward reaching Asian-American voters. Nikore said lower turnout convinced campaigns not to invest many resources, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Also complicating engagement: None of the major AAPI populations share a common language.
“You really need to have multiple campaign plans, one for every ethnicity that exists,” Nikore said.
The Biden campaign is hosting numerous AAPI events, including the launch of the Wisconsin AAPIs for Biden effort on Thursday and an Indian independence event on Saturday.
This fall, the campaign will have phone banks dedicated to specific ethnicities and staffed with callers who speak the appropriate language, Jani said.
Harris’ elevation to the ticket comes as more Asian-Americans run for office than ever before.
There have been a record 99 Asian-American candidates for federal office in 2020, compared with 48 in 2018, according to research by the nonprofit Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies. This year’s examples include Sara Gideon, the Democratic Senate candidate in Maine, whose father is Indian.
Studies have shown that more Asian-American candidates leads to higher political participation among the community’s voters.
“It’s hard to overstate how important this is for people like me,” said Sri Preston Kulkarni, an Indian American running for Congress as a Democrat in a competitive Texas district near Houston. “Growing up as the son of an Indian immigrant, I didn’t see other faces that looked like mine, especially in positions of power.”