News Flash – 23 August 2018

National News



Firemen rescue 42 in Crystal Tower blaze


Mumbai: Three years after it was commissioned into the Mumbai fire brigade, the city’s tallest 90-metre hydraulic ladder was put to use for the first time to rescue over a dozen people stranded in the Crystal Tower blaze on Wednesday. Though the ladder was used for firefighting in the past, it could not be put to use due to lack of access points near highrises. On Wednesday, chief fire officer P S Rahangdale said, “We found an access to use this ladder as the building abuts the road itself.” Firemen reached the site within 15 minutes of the blaze that erupted at 8.30am and rescued stranded individuals within an hour of their arrival. While 13 persons were rescued with help of the ladder, firemen helped 29 others down the smoke-filled stairs. Several residents managed to escape the blaze due to Eid festivities. Five members of Shaikh Mashooq Safi (47) were downstairs for Eid from 7am. Mashooq, though, rushed back inside on seeing smoke billow from the higher floors. His elder brother Naeem Safi said an old acquaintance of the family, Bertha Fernandes, lived with them on the 12th floor. “Mashooq went upstairs to save Bertha but inhaled too much smoke. He used one building lift to reach the 12th floor and rescued his relatives from his flat using the stairs. He then went up again to help when he sustained burn injuries on his face,” he said. Another family member, Waqar Shaikh Safi (26), who had come from Navi Mumbai, too, took the stairs and went upstairs. He also inhaled smoke and fell unconscious. The family alleged that the fire brigade could start firefighting only around 9.30—an hour after the blaze erupted. Mashooq and Waqar were rescued by 10.15am. Both are on oxygen support at KEM Hospital but stable.


A floor above the Safi family was Azharuddin Ali Shaikh (31), trapped inside flats 1301and 1302 with uncle Jehangir and cousin Hassan Sahajahan Shaikh (37). While Hassan died in the fire, Azharuddin said a mock drill at his previous Thane residence six months ago came to his rescue. “The fire perhaps started on the 12th floor. In no time, our apartment was covered in thick black smoke. I asked them to leave at once. My uncle was pulled by one of the neighbours into their flat while Hassan took the stairs,” he said. “It was too late for me to leave, so I took refuge in a corner of the flat’s gallery. I grabbed a pillow and poured some water from a bottle we use to water the plants. Thanks to that I felt I could breathe,” said Shaikh, who runs an engineering firm at Zaveri Bazar. He was rescued after three hours, during which time neighbours managed to pass him water. Dolly Maithu, who shifted to Crystal only eight months ago, said her ailing mother, husband and two children were home when the fire started. The residents on the ninth floor heard a faint knock on their door. “On opening, I couldn’t see anyone but smoke and darkness,” said Maithu, who sustained flash burns on her right arm and face. The woman, whose family is into jewellery business at Zaveri Bazar, said they were rescued around 10am through stairs.



How online army became lifesaver for flood-hit Kerala



Thiruvananthapuram: Social media turned out to be a lifesaver for hundreds during Kerala’s worst floods in a century with a group of enthusiasts, who have already been connected through Facebook, harnessing the immense potential of the platform. Compassionate Keralam, a 6,000-strong group of volunteers, played a major role in helping the government save lives of hundreds trapped in the floods. The group is an extended edition of Compassionate Kozhikode launched by IAS officer N Prasanth. “When our volunteers began offering help, we united them through the Facebook page titled KeralaFloods2018 and soon, the membership crossed 12,000 from all over the world,” Prasanth said. It quickly snowballed into a serious affair with a group of tech-savvy members from all over the world, including from the US, the UK and Germany, providing technical support. The group members channeled all SOS messages received through different social media platforms, along with the data from the government’s website launched during the floods, to the government call centres. The volunteers channeled the data to the district control rooms from where the government machinery was attending to distress calls.


“Since our volunteers were spread out in various time zones, at any point of time, people were actively working for the cause,” said Prasanth. The rescue parties needed exact locations and the IT members used Google coordinates to mark the locations. “I have never seen people ramping up so quickly and working autonomously with very little supervision and delivering results like this,” said Gopikrishan J Nair, IT programme manager with Royal Bank of Scotland in London who volunteered and provided the technical support online. He took up the task of mobilising 80 volunteers in the state in less than 30 minutes using Google contacts and adding them in a WhatsApp group and putting them at the disposal of Alappuzha district collector S Suhas. The government administration offered full support for the initiative, with chief secretary Tom Jose and IT secretary M Sivasankar extending all possible coordination for the team.



3 city cops rescue couple trapped in building blaze

Cops rescuing a woman from the fire in Paharganj’s Chuna Mandi.



New Delhi: In a daring rescue operation, three police personnel saved a couple from a blaze that engulfed a building in central Delhi’s Paharganj. Another person, who was trapped in the building, jumped from the third floor to escape the fire and injured himself. DCP (central) Mandeep Randhawa announced a reward for the three cops and said action would be taken against the guilty once the cause of the fire was known. Police said the blaze spread rapidly because of some plastic material stored on the first floor. It all started at 5.50am when locals at Chuna Mandi-I colony informed the police about the fire. By the time the fire brigade arrived, the fire had spread through the four-storey structure. The building housed three families, all of whom managed to escape. The families tried to call the couple — Balraj Chowdhury (45) and Ganga Devi (43) — but failed to contact them.


1 Three cops manage to reach the balcony above Ganga Devi’s floor. One of them picks up a ladder kept there and pushes it down for Devi to climb up.


2 Devi’s husband, Balraj Chowdhury, who climbs on to the floor above, is also rescued by the three cops using the ladder.



I woke up when I saw the smoke in my room. I immediately asked my husband to rush out of the building. When we went out of the room, we heard people asking us to rush downstairs,” said Devi. “But it was too late by then. Apart from us, our neighbours got trapped too. Before we could even figure out what to do, our neighbours jumped off the third floor. While his family rushed him to the hospital, we were stuck,” she said. All the couple had was a ladder. Chowdhury, the woman’s husband, said, “I managed to climb up the third floor from the second after convincing my wife that I would pull her up. But by the time I climbed up, the fire spread rapidly till the second floor, where my wife was trapped. With no option left, she held on to the grilles of our balcony”. She said she was losing grip but what happened next was least expected. The three cops posted nearby — head constable Manoj, constable Sandeep and constable Amit— noticed the smoke and rushed to help without any safety gear. They managed to come to the balcony above Devi’s floor and formed a human chain to grab the woman’s hand. One of them pulled a ladder kept at the balcony and pushed it down for Devi to place her foot and climb up. “The man was godsend for me as I was losing grip. Had they not reached me for a few more seconds, I would have fallen,” said Devi. Manoj and his colleagues climbed up from the adjacent building and broke the door of the house on the third floor to reach the balcony. “We found a ladder there and I held it down as my colleague, Sandeep, went down to stand on the parapet. He leaned down and asked the woman to hold his leg with one hand,” said Manoj. Sandeep recalled that he had bent as much as he could so that the woman could catch hold of his leg. “I then pulled her up as my colleagues pulled me with the help of the ladder. As soon as she reached the parapet, Manoj and Sandeep pulled us all up,” he said. The husband, who had climbed on to the floor above was also rescued. The three cops suffered minor injuries during the rescue act.



August rain in Kodagu district breaks 87-year-old record


Bengaluru: Kodagu district received the highest-ever rainfall for August this year, surpassing an 87-year-old record. It was in 1931 that the hilly district received 1,559mm rain during the entire month of August. However, in the first three weeks of August alone, the district received a total rainfall of 1,675mm (till August 21). The data from India Meteorological Department, Bengaluru, showed 45% (768mm) of the record August rainfall was received within three days—August 15, 16 and 17. “Such huge quantity of rain within a short duration is the reason behind largescale damage. If the quantity exceeds 200mm in a day, it is termed extremely heavy rainfall. In Kodagu’s case, there was extremely rainfall for three consecutive days,” said Geeta Agnihotri, director, IMD. Kodagu received the highest-ever daily rainfall when it recorded 300mm in a single day on August 17.



Mumbai blaze wake-up call for Hyderabad: Highrises cock a Snook at Safety


Hyderabad: On a day four people died in a massive blaze in a Mumbai high-rise, fire department officials say nearly 40% buildings of over 15-18 metres height (above five to six stories) in the city do not adhere to basic fire safety norms. In fact, of the nearly 200 existing residential and commercial buildings in the IT corridor and Rangareddy district that applied to the Telangana State Disaster Response and Fire Services department for NOC, 110 were rejected for violating fire safety norms. Commercial buildings of over 15-metre height and residential buildings above 18 metres require NOC from the department. “One of the most basic norms being violated by these buildings is occupancy norms. The builder will take permission for a residential setup but later use it as commercial building or vice versa, without permission,” said Harinatha Reddy, district fire officer, Ranga Reddy division, TSDRFSD. In the past three years, 164 cases have been booked against buildings during surprise inspections conducted twice a month. “We have booked nearly 50 buildings this year for not following norms. Nearly 30% buildings of over 15 metres do not have a fireman lift for every 1200 sq. meter of floor area. This lift is useful for firefighters to enter the building for evacuation and firefighting,” said a fire department source.


Several buildings have also been misusing the basement space by putting up canteens and laundry rooms or even servant and watchman rooms. “Space that should be used only as a parking area, assembly point and escape route in case of fire, is being misused. Most open spaces surrounding the building, that should be kept accessible to fire tenders, are occupied. Initially, building owners keep this space clear after getting NOC, but after a year or so start using it for other purposes, making it difficult for firefighting vehicles and equipment to access the building,” said the officer. Many buildings also do not have adequate number of fire extinguishers. Though at least one extinguisher should be available for every 200 sq. meter, most have hardly two extinguishers per floor. “Owners of buildings booked for not following fire safety norms are liable for a penalty of Rs 25,000 and at least three month’s imprisonment,” said the DFO.



1st underground Metro station in 24 years, at Phoolbagan


Kolkata: At the far end of its completion, East-West Metro’s Phoolbagan station is set to achieve a few milestones. For instance, it will be Kolkata’s first underground Metro station after 24 years. The last Metro station that came up below the city’s surface was the north-south line’s MG Road station, which was built in 1994 and started functioning in September 1995. The north-south line has been extended since, but all its the new stations are above the ground, connecting tracks laid on viaduct. The Phoolbagan station is also the first among the 12 East-West Metro stations that is nearing completion. The one coming up in the Howrah station complex is next, but much of the structural construction is still left. TOI got a preview of the Phoolbagan Metro station that promises to morph this crucial north-eastern point into one of the most happening parts of the city. One’s eyes are drawn to the new concourses, the shining staircases and the new railings. There are three pairs of staircases, leading to the three entry/exit areas on either side of the crossing. Among the interesting features at the station is a concrete beam jutting out of the overhead exhaust duct; it will ensure that cool air circulating on the platform doesn’t


escape into the tunnel, like it does in the existing stations. The 140mX12m platforms are covered with marble. They are 30m shorter than the north-south ones to accommodate the six-coach rakes, as against the eight-coach ones in the other Metro line. Screen doors will be fitted shortly, said an engineer, adding, “We had to open up some of the finished walls because of seepage during heavy rain”. Phoolbagan underground station work started in 2011, with a 2013-14 deadline. But the city’s most ambitious infrastructure project that will join Kolkata with Howrah has been beleaguered with hurdles, that has led to several time and cost overruns. “The biggest reason for the delay was the site handover, which was done in phases. We had the entire area we needed only in 2014,” a senior engineer of Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation (KMRC) that is implementing the Rs 8,575 crore project said. There is a fire exit at western end of the platform for commuters to escape to the concourse level in case of emergencies. From here, a corridor with neon signage leads to another staircase connected to the ground level. For firefighters, on the eastern end of the platform, there is another staircase that leads to the ground level.



Cop alert against Momo Challenge


Kolkata/Jalpaiguri: The Bengal police, along with CID, on Wednesday sounded a red alert against Momo Challenge and announced that anyone receiving an invite for the online game should immediately contact cops without trying to play. In this online “game”, which is a form of cyber bullying, a victim is contacted on the social media and threatened into carrying out a series of dangerous tasks, which might end in suicide of the player. The police’s warning came hours after a Jalpaiguri college student received an invite to the challenge apparently immediately after she wrote a WhatsApp status that she was no longer interested in life. Upset with a fight she had just had with her mother, the girl wrote the status. “Hi, I am Momo! Shall v play a game?” read the message that she received on her mobile on Monday night. Luckily for her, she had read about the challenge and immediately showed the message to her brother who blocked the number that appeared to be from American Samoa in the South Pacific Ocean. The girl lodged a complaint at the Jalpaigurri Kotwali police station on Tuesday. “Within moments of updating my status, I got the message. It startled me how quickly the message came. I wonder if WhatsApp messages are encrypted end-to-end, how did the user at the other end access my status unless he/she is known to me,” she told TOI. Biswasroy Sarkar, IC at the Kotwali police station, said, “We have initiated a probe. Our cyber cell is investigating the matter”. Mumbai police was first in the country to warn Mumbaikars about the dangers of the Momo Challenge. To make people aware about the deadly game, the Mumbai police issued a warning on its official Twitter page, urging people to stay away from any such challenge and dial 100 in case of an unwanted situation.



10-year-old uses school lessons to keep 15 Safe in Mumbai Fire

Zen Sadavarta helped the residents of the highrise.



Mumbai: As smoke started reaching the top floor of Crystal Tower following a fire on the 12th floor, a 10-year-old girl who saw her parents panic, went back to the basics she learned in school and helped around 15 people stay safe till the firemen arrived. Zen Sadavarta first calmed her parents and the neighbours down and took them to a corner flat where there was less smoke. “I learned in school how to deal with such a situation. I requested all of them to stay calm. I noticed there was little smoke in one of the corner flats. I guided them inside that flat and closed the door,” said the class VI student of Don Bosco International School. After entering the flat, Zen told everyone to take pieces of cotton cloth and wet it. “My teacher taught me this trick, so I told everyone to cover their mouth with wet cloth to ensure that they inhale less carbon monoxide. I also shouted to people of the flat below to do the same,” the girl told TOI. Recalling the incident, her mother said on learning about the fire, when she opened their kitchen window, hot smoke hit her face and she immediately closed it. As smoke started entering flat, Zen, her mother and father, Gunratan Sadavarta, an advocate, rushed out of their flat. However, they could not go to the terrace as the door was locked. Then they stayed put till the fire brigade arrived and rescued them from the balcony of a 16th floor flat with the help of a firefighting ladder.



How Chennai Central turned nerve centre for Kerala flood crisis


Chennai: As floodwaters began to rise and eventually washed away the ballasts in various parts of Kerala on August 15, officers at the Southern Railway headquarters in Chennai realised they had a crisis on hand. Not only were train operations to, from and within Kerala going to be affected, thousands of passengers would be stranded at various stations in the state, some waiting for trains, others sitting inside them unable to move due to water-logged tracks. Officials knew Southern Railway would have to play a major role to send relief material, as roads were damaged due to landslides and many were unmotorable. For the next one week, thousands of employees worked day and night to restore services, send food and water to stranded passengers as well as relief to marooned citizens. The nerve centre of this operation was Chennai, from where officers brain-stormed and coordinated with officers in Trivandrum and Palaghat divisions as well as with the Railway Board in Delhi. “More than 10,000 passengers were stranded in trains and at stations. We got our local contractors on line, worked with NGOs and ensured that food supplies were sent to them,” a senior commercial department official said. Staff of pantry cars in trains were asked to cook and come up with easily-prepared items like upma for passengers. Train side vending was activated at stations, while those stranded on platforms were taken to community centres, the official said.


About 775 meals for just Rs 30 each were arranged at Ernakulam station, while 1,000 meals were supplied by a local NGO. All platforms were packed with people; railway stations are built at an elevation and have sufficient cover from rain and floods. The breakthrough came on the night of August 17, when trains from Kerala began moving along the Trichy-Madurai-Nagercoil route. Slowly, this section was used to evacuate passengers, especially migrants from states like Jharkhand, West Bengal and Assam, desperate to get back home. While the number of unreserved coaches was increased on special trains, unreserved specials were operated at discounted rates, said officials. Sixteen specials carrying at least 25,000 additional passengers were run till Tuesday night, as per official figures. Sothern Railway also moved 23 lakh litres of water from Chengalpet and Erode via sintex tank wagons to Kerala through Madurai, and IRCTC was roped in to supply 2.2 lakh bottles of Rail Neer from its Palur and Parasala plants. “Positions were checked once every four hours and brainstorming done to facilitate relief to Kerala,” said the official. This was a textbook case of disaster management by Southern Railway and, along with the 2015 Chennai floods experience, provided invaluable experience on how to handle a crisis, officials said.



International News



Hackers target mobiles to mine cryptocurrencies



Paris: Has your smartphone suddenly slowed down, warmed up and the battery drained down for no apparent reason? If so, it may have been hijacked to mine cryptocurrencies. This new type of cyberattack is called ‘cryptojacking’ by security experts. It “is entrapping an internet server, a personal computer or a smartphone to install malware to mine cryptocurrencies,” said Gerome Billois, an IT expert. Mining is the process of helping verify and process transactions in a virtual currency. Miners are then rewarded with some of the currency themselves. Mining bitcoin, ethereum, monero and other cryptocurrencies may be very profitable, but it does require investments and generates huge electricity bills. But hackers have found a cheaper option: surreptitiously exploiting the processors in smartphones. To lure victims, hackers turn to the digital world’s equivalent of the Trojan horse subterfuge of Greek mythology: inside an innocuous-looking app or programme hides a malicious one, especially games.



Facebook, Twitter uncover new disinformation campaigns



San Francisco/Washington: Facebook Inc. Twitter Inc. and Alphabet Inc. collectively removed hundreds of accounts tied to an alleged Iranian propaganda operation on Tuesday, while Facebook took down a second campaign it said was linked to Russia. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the accounts identified on his company’s platform were part of two separate campaigns, the first from Iran with some ties to state-owned media, the second linked to sources that Washington has previously named as Russian military intelligence services. “Such claims are ridiculous and are part and parcel of US public calls for regime change in Iran, and are an abuse of social media platforms,” said Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations. The Kremlin rejected Facebook’s accusations. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Moscow did not understand the basis for such statements and that they looked like “carbon copies” of previous allegations that Moscow has denied. The United States earlier this year indicted 13 Russians on charges they attempted to meddle in US politics, but the alleged Iranian activity, exposed by cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc., suggests the problem may be more widespread. “It really shows it’s not just Russia that engages in this type of activity,” Lee Foster, an information operations analyst with FireEye, said. FireEye said the Iranian campaign used a network of fake news websites and fraudulent social media personas spread across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google Plus and YouTube, to push narratives in line with Tehran’s interests.


The activity was aimed at users in the US, UK, Latin America and the West Asia up to and through this month, FireEye said. It included “anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes”, as well as advocacy of policies favourable to Iran, such as the US-Iran nuclear deal. FireEye said the Iranian activity did not appear “dedicated” to influencing the upcoming election, though some of the posts aimed at US users did adopt “left-leaning identities” and took stances against US President Donald Trump. That activity “could suggest a more active attempt to influence domestic US political discourse” is forthcoming, Foster said, but “we just haven’t seen that yet”. Facebook said the Russia linked accounts it removed were engaged in “inauthentic behaviour” related to politics in Syria and Ukraine. It said that activity did not appear to be linked to the Iranian campaign. “These were distinct campaigns and we have not identified any link or coordination between them. However, they used similar tactics by creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing,” it said. Twitter, which called the effort “coordinated manipulation”, said it removed 284 accounts. Facebook said it removed 254 pages and 392 accounts across its flagship platform as well as its Instagram service. The accounts spent about $12,000 to advertise through Facebook and Instagram. Facebook said it had notified the US treasury and state departments of the purchases, which may violate sanctions. Alphabet, parent company of Google and You-Tube, did not respond to a request to comment.

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