Cuba: more than 100 dead after plane crashes shortly after takeoff

Cuban president offers condolences to victims families after jet carrying 104 passengers and six crew crashed into field near Havana airport

More than 100 people have died after an aging Boeing 737 carrying 104 passengers and six crew crashed into a nearby field soon after taking off from Havana’s main airport.

In a televised address on Friday afternoon, the Cuban president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, offered his condolences to victims’ households and told an investigation into the disaster had been launched.

Witnesses said that the 39 -year old aircraft veered back towards the airport less than a minute after takeoff from Jose Marti international airport, but became ensnared in electricity cables before crashing down.

” When we were checking in, we heard an explosion, the illuminates used to go in the airport and we assured black smoking rising- and they told us a plane had crashed ,” Argentine tourist Brian Horanbuena told the Associated Press at the airport.

At the scene of the crash near the town of Santiago de las Vegas, thick black smoking plumed out of the torn wreckage which was scattered across a field of cassava.

cuba

“It’s a disaster,” a military official told the AP.

Three survivors arrived at the Calixto Garcia hospital in Havana in critical condition.

” She is alive but very burnt and swollen ,” one distressed relative told Reuters at the hospital.

Other family members gathered at the airport where they were rushed to a private region to await news.” My daughter is 24. My God, she’s only 24 ,” exclaimed Beatriz Pantoja, whose daughter Leticia was on board the plane.

The plane was on a domestic flight, heading for the city of eastern city of Holguin, and most of the passengers were Cuban, according to local media.

As tourism has boomed in Cuba in recent years, package vacations in Holguin province’s beaches have become increasingly popular.

The 737 was operated by the state-run airline Cubana de Aviacion but had been leased from a small Mexican charter company called Damojh Aerolineas, which also operates as Global Air Mexico.

The plane was built in 1979, according to Mexican authorities, who also confirmed that five Mexican crew members were among the dead.

” We heard an detonation and then ensure a big cloud of smoke come up ,” said Gilberto Menendez, who runs a restaurant near the accident site in the agricultural municipality of Boyeros, 20 km( 12 miles) south of Havana.

Cubana has placed many of its planes out of service because of upkeep problems in recent months.

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Mass hysteria may explain ‘sonic attacks’ in Cuba, say top neurologists

Despite 22 Americans reporting symptoms , no evidence of a weapon has been received and experts suspect psychosomatic ailment links between high stress

Senior neurologists have suggested that a spate of mysterious ailments among US diplomats in Cuba– which has caused foreign diplomats rift between the two countries- could have been caused by a sort of” mass hysteria” rather than sonic attacks.

The unexplained incidents have prompted the US to withdraw most of its embassy staff from Havana and expelthe majority of Cuban diplomats from Washington.

The neurologists who talked to the Guardian cautioned that no proper diagnosis is possible without far more information and access to the 22 US victims, who have suffered a range of symptoms including hearing loss, tinnitus, headaches and dizziness.

The state department has described the incidents as “attacks”, saying they began at the end of last year with the last recorded incident in August.

But US and Cuban investigations have rendered no evidence of any weapon, and the neurologists argue that the possibility of setting up” functional ailment” due to a problem in the functioning of nervous system- rather than a disease- should be considered.

” From an objective point of view it’s more like mass hysteria than anything else ,” said Mark Hallett, the head of the human motor control section of the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

” Mass hysteria” is the popular term for outbreaks among groups of people which are partly or wholly psychosomatic, but Hallett stressed there should be no blame attached to them.

” Psychosomatic illnes is a disease like anything else. It shouldn’t be stigmatised ,” said Hallett, who is also president of the International Federation of Clinical Neurophysiology.” It’s important to point out that symptoms like this are not voluntary. They are not a sign of weakness in an individual’s personality .”

Hallett said it was more common for such disorders to affect smaller groups of people, often in families, but he added that it was feasible for larger numbers of individuals to be affected, especially when they were working closely together in a tense and hostile environment.

” There are a very large number of individuals that have relatively vague grievances as far as I can see ,” Hallett said.” There has been an exploration of possible causes for this and nothing has been discovered and the notion of some sonic ray is relatively nonsensical.

” If it is mass hysteria that would clarify all the mystery- and presumably normalise US-Cuban relations again ,” said Hallett.” These people are all clustered together in a somewhat anxious environment and “its exactly” the situation that precipitates something like this. Anxiety may be one of the critical factors .”

The Associated Press reported on Thursday that it had been provided audio tapes of high-pitched whining noises which some US embassy workers said they heard in Havana, but it is unclear whether the voices were linked to the health complaints. The report noted that not all the Americans injured in Cuba heard sounds, and of those who did, it is not unclear if they heard the same thing.

Alan Carson, a consultant neuropsychiatrist and former president of the British Neuropsychiatry Association told the Guardian:” Typically what one gets in a functional disorder is some trigger. It is often relatively mild and non-specific, it can be a minor physical trauma. But then a combination of a certain degree of nervousnes and also notion and expectation distort that feeling .”

” If there is a strong enough expectation that something is going to happen, that they are able to distort in an entirely real style the incoming information ,” Carson said.” In certain circumstances that can be transmitted from person to person … If person or persons has that experience strongly enough and decides off that train of thought in somebody’s else’s mind, that can happen too .”

Many acoustics experts have said that it is highly unlikely that the range of symptoms reported could have been caused by any kind of sonic weapons.

Another theory was that the health complaints were caused by a surveillance operation that had gone wrong- but that has also met with scepticism from experts and a dearth of evidence.

The US has not directly blamed the Cuban government but said Havana had failed in its obligation to protect foreign diplomats on its territory. The Cuban government has denied conducting any form of assault and has offered its cooperation in detecting the cause of the symptoms.

” I don’t think the Cuban government is behind it ,” said Ben Rhodes, Barack Obama’s foreign policy adviser, who was involved in negotiating the previous administration’s rapprochement with Havana.

” First, these things apparently started in December … At the same hour the attacks were starting the Cuban government was frantically concluding agreements with us, signing business deals … in other words trying to preserve the relationship. So the notion that at the same time as doing that, they would initiate something that is so obviously designed to blow up the relationship doesn’t make any sense .”

Asked about the possibility of functional ailments, a state department spokesperson said:” We have no definitive answers on the cause or the source of the two attacks on US envoys in Cuba, and an aggressive investigation continues. We do not wishes to get ahead of that investigation .”

Donald Trump has struck a markedly more hostile tone towards Cuba than his predecessor, and in June announced a partial rollback of Obama’s rapprochement, tightening travel and trade rules with the island.

Jon Stone, a University of Edinburgh neurologist and the co-editor of a book on functional neurologic disorders, said that such disorders were very common, and the second commonest reason to see a neurologist.

” There is a misconception that only people who are weak-willed, people who are neurotic, get these symptoms. It isn’t true ,” Stone said.” We are talking about genuine symptoms that people have of dizziness, of headaches, of hearing problems, which they are not faking .”

He added that the outbreak could have started with one or two people falling ill with headaches or hearing problems, and those spread in a high-stress atmosphere and then amid talk of a” sonic attack “.

” None of this stimulates sense until you consider the psychogenic rationale ,” said Robert Bartholomew, a medical sociologist and the author of series of volumes on outbreaks of mass hysteria.

” American intelligence agencies are the most sophisticated in the world, and they reportedly don’t have a clue as to what’s causing the symptoms. I will bet my house that there are agents in the intelligence community who have also concluded that this is a psychogenic event- but their analysis is either being repressed or ignored by the Trump administration because it doesn’t fit their narrative. Mass psychogenic illness is by far the most plausible justification .”

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Hurricane Irma: ‘the most catastrophic storm Florida has ever seen’

Leave now, governor cautions as cyclone bears down on Keys after leaving trail of devastation in the Caribbean, with 25 corroborated killed amid 200 kmh winds

Florida faces the” most catastrophic” cyclone in its history as Hurricane Irma prepares to unleash devastating force-out on the state, including 120 mph gusts, life-threatening ocean surges that could submerge builds and cash advances battery of tornadoes.

” You need to leave- not tonight , not in an hour, right now ,” Governor Rick Scott commanded in a press conference, 12 hours before the tornado was expected to make landfall on Sunday morning.” This is the most catastrophic storm the state has ever seen .”

The US national hurricane centre said in its 8p m Saturday update on Irma that” heavy squalls with embedded tornadoes” were already sweeping across south Florida. The US National Weather Service later said the first hurricane-force wind gust had been recorded in the Florida Keys, a low-lying island chain off the state’s southern coast.

Irma dropped to a category three hurricane but could regain its category four intensity as the bathtub-warm seawater of virtually 32 C( 90 F) will enable the blizzard to build strength.

It was forecast to make the Keys first, then again near Cape Coral or Fort Myers, and then a third period near Tampa Bay on its path up Florida’s west coast. Weather stations in Marathon, a city in the Keys, reported sustained winds of 51mph (8 1kmh) with a gust to 71 mph( 115 kmh) on Saturday night.

In Florida’s south-west, officers expected ocean surges as high as 15 ft( 4.5 metres ), which can rapidly rise and fall.

” Fifteen feet is devastating and will cover your house ,” Scott said.” Do not think the cyclone is over when the wind slows down. The cyclone upsurge will rush in and it could kill you .”

He said at least 76,000 people were without power as the 350 miles( 560 km) broad blizzard unleashes breezes and rain on the nation. Officials said the window for people in evacuation zones was shutting, with gas stations closing and bridges blocked off.

More than seven million people were ordered to flee their homes in several countries, including almost a third of Florida’s population. Around 50,000 people were in 300 shelters around the state, counties legislated curfews and power providers have already begun to struggle with demand.

In Miami, Guardian reporter Richard Luscombe was sheltering with his family in a 5ft x 5ft interior closet with no windows, away from exterior walls and doors.

” My mobile phone has been calling its high-pitched alarm every 10 minutes over the last hour or so with dire warns from the National Weather Service to take cover NOW because of tornadic thunderstorms in the area ,” he said.

” The threat of tornados comes from thunderstorms in Hurricane Irma’s violent outer bands, which have been circling over Miami-Dade and Broward districts for most of the day as the blizzard moves ever closer.

” It’s likely to be a long night in the closet with the kids .”

Donald Trump was monitoring the progress of the cyclone from the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland where he held a cabinet meeting.

In Palm Beach, Trump’s waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate was under evacuation order.
” This is a cyclone of enormous destructive power, and I ask everyone in the storm* s route to heed ALL instructions from government officials ,” Trump said on Twitter.

Donald J. Trump (@ realDonaldTrump)

This is a storm of enormous destructive power, and I ask all the members of the storm’s route to heed ALL instructions from government officials. pic.twitter.com/ nJfM2Sdme 1

September 9, 2017

Forecasters said the tropical cyclone would maintain hurricane strength well into Georgia on Monday.

It leaves behind a road of devastation in the Caribbean, with 25 affirms killed, including 11 people on French St Martin and St Barts, four in the US Virgin Islands, three on Puerto Rico, two on Dutch St Maarten, person or persons in Anguilla and a two-year-old in Barbuda.

Its most recent victim, Cuba, experienced 125 mph( 200 kmh) winds on Saturday that damaged hotels in the island’s best-known beach resorts and forced evacuations as far along the coast as low-lying areas of the capital Havana.

Power was out and mobile phone service was spotty in many regions as Irma, the first category five cyclone to make landfall on the island since 1932, passed over. The island’s communist government ordered the evacuation of more than a million people from its path.

In the fishing township of Caibarien, streets were carpeted with fresh green seaweed as the water receded, people said it was the strongest hurricane ever to hit the town.

Irma’s turn northward was expected to occur around 150 miles( 240 km) east of the capital. Nevertheless, authorities shut off power in large parts of the city and evacuated around 10,000 people from central Havana near the Malecon seawall because of fears of inundating from the blizzard surge.

‘There’s nothing left ‘: British Virgin Islands devastated by Hurricane Irma

By Saturday evening, the sea had penetrated two blocks over parts of the city’s historic seafront boulevard, and the water were expected to advance further as the upsurge grew. Restaurants on the seaside drive pulled down their shutters and stacked sandbags.

The Caribbean islands will barely have is high time to take stock before category four Hurricane Jose threatens landfall, complicating relief efforts for islands that have only just emerged from Irma’s winds.

Jose spared Barbuda, where the cabinet of ministers estimated 90% of buildings were destroyed by Irma a few days earlier.

Although Jose is weaker and moving away from the Islands, high winds are likely to hitting Puerto Rico and maybe Dominican Republic as soon as Sunday morning local time.

However, residents in the British Virgin Islands described a scene of” utter devastation”in the wake of Irma and pleaded for the UK government to send more food, water and shelter.

Natalie Drury, who lives with her husband in Tortola, said she was in a” nation of skepticism” about the demolition left by the cyclone. Homes and business had been destroyed, she said, the streets were strewn with sewage and looters had emptied shops.

” We urgently need assist as soon as is practicable. Food, water, shelter. I’m exceedingly concerned about health and safety- there is sewage utterly everywhere.

” It’s worse than anyone could have imagined. The country is going to need some serious assistance. I have no notion how many people have died. We were told yesterday it’s gone up to 10, but obviously that’s all rumours. Nobody knows yet .”

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Irma’s destruction: island by island

The category five hurricane has ripped through the Caribbean, leaving flattened landscapes, flash flood and loss of life

Antigua and Barbuda

Barbuda, the first island to feel the force of Hurricane Irma was devastated by its high winds, with Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, saying 90% of houses had been destroyed and 50% of the people of around 1,000 people left homeless.

One person- a two-year-old child- is confirmed to have died in the storm. Michael Joseph, president of the Red Cross in Antigua and Barbuda told 😛 TAGEND

The devastation is not like we’ve ever seen before- we’re talking about the whole country … of Barbuda being significantly destroyed.

Critical facilities including roads and communications systems were ravaged, with the recovery endeavor set to take months or years. Some residents are expected to be evacuated to the larger sister island of Antigua- where injury was less severe- as part of relief efforts and ahead of the prospective arrival of Hurricane Jose this weekend.

Browne said he would order the evacuation of Barbuda if forecasters predict that Jose will hit the island in the coming days.

Barbuda suffers’ unprecedented’ injury from Irma
Map

Anguilla

One person died in the British overseas territory, told Ronald Jackson, executive director of the Caribbean disaster and emergency management agency, who added that” police station, hospitals, school facilities, three or four emergency shelters, a home for the infirm and the aged, as well as the fire station”, along with many homes, had been damaged or destroyed.

UK foreign office minister Alan Duncan said:” The initial assessment is that the damage has been severe and in places critical .”

The tourist board told major resorts on the island had withstood the onslaught. The airport and two ports remain closed.

The British government has been accused of a failure to respond rapidly to the devastation. On Thursday, it announced an extra PS32m in aid and will send hundreds of marines and royal engineers, as well as HMS Ocean, currently deployed in the Mediterranean, which will take 10 to 14 days to reach the area.

St Kitts& Nevis

Prime minister Timothy Harris said St Kitts was ” spared the full brunt” of Irma, but warned of “significant damage” to property and infrastructure, as well as power failings. The airport reopened on Thursday. A hurricane warning and flash-flooding watch have been discontinued, and residents and visitors given the all-clear.

St Martin and St Barts

The French part of the island( the southern side, St Maarten, is administered by the Netherlands) was ” 95% destroyed “, according to Daniel Gibb, a local officer, who called it” an enormous misfortune “:

I have sick people to evacuate, I have a population to evacuate because I don’t know where I can shelter them.

Four people were killed in St Martin, according to French “ministers ” Edouard Philippe, who said 50 were injured during across the island and another French overseas collectivity, Saint Barthelemy( St Barts ). Power was cut across the island and many roads are impassable.

The number of victims on the Dutch half of the island, St Maarten, is unknown. Netherlands prime minister Mark Rutte says there has been” enormous material damage” to St Maarten, and has sent marines and two assistance flights.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, earlier said he expected Irma-related damage caused to St Martin and St Barts would be ” considerable “. France’s overseas minister, Annick Girardin, travelled to the Caribbean with emergency squads and supplies.

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Storm Irma makes Saint Martin island- video

Virgin Islands

Significant damage has been reported from the British Virgin Islands, where critical facilities, as well as homes, businesses and supermarkets, have been devastated.

UK foreign minister Alan Duncan told:” The British Virgin Islands were also not spared the hurricane’s full force. Our initial appraisal is of severe damage and we expect that the islands will need extensive humanitarian assistance which we will of course provide .”

Sam Branson, son of Virgin tycoon Richard Branson- who insured out the blizzard in a bunker on his private island of Necker- said” a lot of buildings” had been destroyed.

Four people are confirmed to have died in the US Virgin Islands, with a government spokesman predicting the toll would rise. US president Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency and a major calamity. There were reports of extensive damage to buildings, and of land solely stripped of vegetation.

Many roads are inaccessible in the USVI, and schools are reported to be destroyed.

Puerto Rico

Lashing breezes and rainfalls have left more than a million people without power and tens of thousands without water. Images from the island demonstrated flash flooding, and hospitals were forced to rely on generators.

Three people- two women and a man- have been confirmed dead, and rescuers are searching for the missing. Waves of up to 30 feet( 9 metres) were reported. Several thousand people remain in emergency shelters.

Governor Ricardo Rossello has also proclaimed a disaster in the tiny islands of Culebra and Vieques, to Puerto Rico’s east, which were hard-hit by the cyclone. So far there has been little information from the islands.

Irma is the worst hurricane to reach the island since 1928, when Hurricane San Felipe killed more than 2,700 people across Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe and Florida.

Dominican Republic

Pictures from the Dominican Republic– where Irma passed to the north- prove widespread injury: flattened buildings, downed trees and power lines. The coastal resorts of Cabarete and Sosua were reported to have insured blizzard surges, and more than 5,000 people were evacuated across the country.

On Thursday, Juan Manuel Mendez, director of the centre of emergency operations, told people there should” not let down their guard … the worst isn’t over “.

Haiti

Irma continued its path across the north of Hispaniola- the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti- taking down a key bridge between the two. Heavy rains flailed the north coast and several areas lost power.

Two people were reportedly injured in the northern port town of Cap-Haitien when a tree crashed into their home.

Officials had admitted they were not prepared for the onslaught and no mandatory evacuation orders were in place ahead of Irma’s approach. But reports from Cap-Haitien so far suggest Haiti has been spared the worst effects of the category 5.

Turks and Caicos

Irma was ” pummelling” the British overseas territory on Thursday evening, the US National Hurricane Center told, with gales of 175 mph( 280 kmh ).

Governor John Freeman said some people had been moved to shelters ahead of the hurricane’s arrival, but warned others to 😛 TAGEND

Hunker down, stay where you are … Nobody can get to you either- people are, for a little while, on their own.

Electricity supplyings had failed on Grand Turk, which meant water production was also out, Freeman said.

Bahamas

Overnight on Thursday, the eye of the blizzard moved on to the southern Bahamas , passing only north of Great Inagua island. The US National Hurricane Center warned that cyclone surges could lift water levels in south-eastern and central Bahamas by 15 -2 0ft( 4.5 -6m) above normal levels.

Bahamas prime minister Hubert Minnis said his government had evacuated people from six islands in the south to the capital, Nassau, in the largest storm evacuation in the country’s history. Airports have been closed.

Where next?

A hurricane warning comes into force in Cuba , where tourists are being evacuated and residents of coastal townships told to move inland.

By late Saturday, Irma is forecast to hit Florida , where mandatory evacuation orders have already been issued for Florida Keys and swaths of southern and coastal Florida. All hospitals in the Florida Keys archipelago will close at 7am Friday, and coast guard and rescue services have left.

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Where is Hurricane Irma heading? Mapping the path of destruction

Maps and charts tracking the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean as it heads towards Florida.

Hurricane Irma, the most powerful blizzard ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, has been advancing across the northern Caribbean, leaving a road of devastation in its track, and at the least eight dead.

After hitting smaller islands such as Antigua and Barbuda on Tuesday and Wednesday, the storm was set to hit the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday before moving on to Florida, and the populous coastal city of Miami, at the weekend.

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Probability of tropical storm level gusts in the next five days
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All days in Atlantic Standard Time | Source: US National Hurricane Center | Last updated: 7 September, 4:00 pm

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Latest satellite imagery proves Irma traversing the Caribbean islands and heading towards the US mainland

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Historically, more storms made Florida than any other U.S. state

With wind velocities at 185 miles per hour, Irma is feared to be worse than Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane which struck Florida in 1992.
The strongest hurricane to reach the United States after Andrew was Charley, which attained landfall in southwestern Florida more than a decade later.

historical

Some of the countries in Irma’s path are among the world’s most vulnerable to natural disasters

Irma’s impact will depend on how hard it hits the most populated areas in its track to the mainland, and how well prepared they are to deal with its effects. According to a UN World Risk Report, the Caribbean countries differ starkly in their readiness. Although the United States and Cuba have relatively good infrastructure and plentiful medical professionals, the Dominican Republic is less ready, and Haiti is among the worst-prepared countries in the world to withstand a natural disaster.

World risk index graphic .

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