Monday, June 2, 2008

The Ten Deadliest US Hurricanes

The Ten Deadliest US Hurricanes
The Worst Hurricanes In Terms of Loss of Life In the United State

1. The Great Galveston Hurricane

Galveston, Texas
September 8, 1900

This unnamed hurricane caused the greatest loss of life of any Hurricane in recorded US history. First tracked in Cuba as a tropical storm on Sept. 3, it hit Galveston as a Category 4 Hurricane. An estimated 6,000 - 12,000 people died as storm tides of eight to 15 feet washed over the barrier island. The tragedy was documented in the recent book, Isaac’s Storm.

2. San Felipe-Okeechobee Hurricane
September 16 - 17, 1928

The fourth strongest Hurricane to hit the US mainland caused a lake surge on the inland Lake Okeechobee in Florida that rose as high as nine feet, flooding nearby towns. A total of 1,836 people died in Florida; another 312 died in Puerto RIco, and 18 in the Bahamas.

3. Hurricane Katrina
Louisiana, Mississippi
August 25 - 29, 2005

Making landfall as a Category 4, Hurricane Katrina caused immense flooding in New Orleans. More than 800 deaths currently are being blamed on Katrina.

4. The Long Island Express
North Carolina to New York
September 20 - 22, 1938

The Long Island Express roared past North Carolina on September 20, and hit Long Island on September 22 as a Category 3. Storm surges of 12 - 16 feet killed at least 600.

5. The Great Labor Day Storm
September 2, 1935

One of just three Category 5 Hurricanes to make landfall in the US, the Great Labor Day Storm was responsible for 423 deaths in Florida. Most of those occurred when a train carrying World War I veterans was overturned. The Hurricane also was notable for providing the setting for the Humphrey Bogart - Lauren Bacall movie, Key Largo.

6. Hurricane Audrey
Texas and Louisiana
June 26, 1957

Audrey was a Category 4 that caused eight to 12 foot storm surges that moved inland as far as 25 miles through low-lying areas of Louisiana. The storm is blamed for 390 deaths.

7. The Great Miami Hurricane
September 18, 1926

The Great Miami Hurricane struck Miami directly with little warning. The town of Moore Haven on the south side of Lake Okeechobee was completely flooded by lake surge from the hurricane. Hundreds of people in Moore Haven alone were killed by this surge, which left behind floodwaters in the town for weeks afterward. The Red Cross lists the death toll at 373, although the total may be higher because much of the population at the time was either new, or transient, with no one to account for them.

8. The Grand Isle Hurricane
September 20, 1909

This Category 4 storm struck the mainland between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It is blamed for at least 350 deaths.

9. The Atlantic-Gulf Hurricane
Florida, Texas
September 10 - 14, 1919

This hurricane struck the Keys as a Category 4, and Texas as a Category 3. US mainland losses are recorded as 287, but more than 500 more people apparently were lost at sea as the storm destroyed ten ships.

10. Unnamed Storm
New Orleans, Louisiana
September 30, 1915

In a frightening precursor to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, this unnamed Category 4 Storm flooded Lake Pontchartrain, causing it to overflow its banks and killing 275 people.

11. Unnamed Storm
Galveston, Texas
August 5, 1915

In spite of a seawall built following the devastating 1900 storm, this Category 4 hurricane once again devastated the city of Galveston, Texas. It killed 275.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The World’s Worst Volcanic Eruptions

The World’s Worst Volcanic Eruptions
As Measured by Death Toll

This list of the world’s worst volcanic eruptions includes only those whose death toll can be reasonably documented. The death toll from some of the worst eruptions in history can only be guessed. The eruption of Santorini in Greece in 1650 BC destroyed competely destroyed entire civilizations. Scientist also theorize that an eruption of Tuba around 75,000 years ago caused a volcanic winter that came close to wiping out mankind.

1. Mt. Tambora, Indonesia
April 10 - 15, 1816
Death Toll: 92,000

The eruption of Tambora killed an estimated 92,000 people, including 10,000 from explosion and ash fall, and 82,000 from other related causes.

The concussion from the explosion was felt as far as a thousand miles away. Mt. Tambora, which was more than 13,000 feet tall before the explosion was reduced to 9,000 feet after ejecting more than 93 cubic miles of debris into the atmosphere.

The effects of the eruption were felt worldwide: 1816 became known as the “year without a summer” because of the volcanic ash in the atmosphere that lowered worldwide temperatures. It snowed in New England that June, and crop failures were common throughout Northern Europe and North America. As many as 100,000 additional deaths from starvation in these areas are thought to be traced to the eruption.

2. Mt. Pelee, West Indies
April 25 - May 8, 1902
Death Toll: 40,000

Thought to be dormant, Mt. Pelee began a series of eruptions on April 25, 1902. The primary eruption, on May 8 completely destroyed the city of St. Pierre, killing 25,000. The only survivors were a man held in a prison cell, and a man who lived on the outskirts of the town. Several ships also were destroyed with all hands.

3. Mt. Krakatoa, Indonesia
August 26 - 28, 1883
Death Toll: 36,000

The August 1883 of Mt. Krakatoa (Krakatua) destroyed 2/3 of the island, ejecting more than six cubic miles of debris into the atmosphere. The sound of the explosion was the loudest ever documented, and was heard as far away as Australia.

Interestingly, it’s probable that no one died in the initial explosion. The casualties all came from the resulting tsunami.

4. Nevado del Ruiz, Columbia
November 13, 1985
Death Toll: 23,000

A small eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano melted part of the volcano’s ice cap, creating an enormous mudslide that buried the city of Armero, killing 23,000.

5. Mt. Unzen, Japan
Death Toll: 12,000 - 15,000

The eruption of Mt. Unzen was followed by an earthquake, which collapsed the east flank of the dome. The resulting avalance created a tsuanami which killed 12,000 to 15,000 in nearby towns.

6. Mt. Vesuvius, Italy
April 24, AD 79
Death Toll: 10,000+

In one of the most famous eruptions of all time, Mt. Vesuvius erupted and completely destroyed the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The eruption, which is said to have lasted 19 hours, buried Pompeii in ten feet of volcanic ash. The intense heat—perhaps as much as 750 degrees—carbonized much of the organic material in the area. Many of the victims have been found with the tops of their heads missing—their brains having boiled and exploded.

7. The Laki Volcanic System, Iceland
June 8, 1783 - February 1784
Death Toll: 9350

Nearly a year of constant eruptions created a dusty volcanic haze that created massive food shortages. Iceland suffered 9,350 deaths mostly due to starvation.

8. Mt. Vesuvius, Italy
December 1631
Death Toll: 6,000

The notorious Mt. Vesuvius has erupted more than a dozen times since it destroyed the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The 1631 eruption killed as many as 6,000 people when lava flows consumed many of the surrounding towns. Boiling water ejected from the volcanos added to the destruction.

9. Mt. Kelut, Indonesia
May 19, 1919
Death Toll: 5,110

Most of the casualties apparently were the result of mudslides.

10. Mt. Galunggung, Java, Indonesia
Death Toll: 4,011

Volcano of mud makes 50,000 homeless

Campaigners say drilling by energy firm caused huge eruption, which has already killed 13 in Indonesia. Photo / Reuters Beside a noxious sea of shifting grey mud they asked for help to rebuild their...

Beside a noxious sea of shifting grey mud they asked for help to rebuild their lives and for deliverance from further encroachment by the methane-spitting sludge. Already 13 people from this district in the east of the Indonesian island of Java have lost their lives to the world's largest mud volcano, and a further 50,000 have been made homeless. Every day as the volcano continues to spew forth hot mud, more people and their villages are threatened. Schools and factories have had to be moved.

An Indonesian court says this is a natural disaster. Yet human rights campaigners, as well as a team of scientists from Durham University, say the mud volcano that has been named Lusi was triggered by a gas-drilling operation two years ago. What gives this story an added twist is that the company is owned by the family of the country's richest man, who also happens to be Indonesia's Welfare Minister.

The images of Lusi are nothing short of remarkable.

The area at the very centre of the volcano has been surrounded by 20m-high concrete walls erected by the authorities to try to stem the flow. But already, the area now covered by the splurging mess totals more than 1,500 acres.
Worse still, there are signs that the entire area is sinking and forming a huge crater.

"The centre is falling by 4cm a day, which amounts to around 14m a year," said Professor Richard Davies, head of a team from Durham University which has studied the volcano. "Sidoarjo is a populated region and is collapsing as a result of the birth and growth of Lusi.

This could continue to have a significant environmental impact on the surrounding area for years to come." He said the plunging volcano could cause other fractures and faults within the landscape and even begin to start shifting the course of rivers. Professor Davies said his team was 99 per cent certain that the volcano had been triggered by gas drilling in the region two years ago. He said it appeared workers from the Lapindo Brantas company had drilled to more than 3,000 metres and tapped into a water-bearing aquifer that was located beneath a seam of mudstone.

The effect had been to release the pressure in the aquifer, causing the water to push out through the mudstone, creating a volcano of mud. That initial eruption two years ago this week killed 13 people and inundated 12 villages with a flood of mud. Every day since the volcano has continued to produce between 50,000 and 150,000 cubic metres of mud - enough to fill 60 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

While thousands live in makeshift shanties waiting for help and refusing to move, the company this week took out advertisements in newspapers proclaiming its "social commitment" to the area but insisting experts believe the volcano was a natural phenomenon.

Last month, the company stopped giving out food rations to displaced villages and said they should accept the compensation that had been offered. The homeless insist instead that they be given a lump sum to build new homes. "They can't live there for ever.

They should immediately submit documents and accept the compensation," said a company spokeswoman, Yuniwati Teryana. Last year the authorities ordered the company to pay more than �A3;220m in compensation and for work to halt the spread of the mud. But campaigners say only residents in four of the villages affected by the mud were eligible for compensation and that, of those people, only 20 per cent have so far received any money from the oil and gas giant.

Campaigners say the government is unwilling to challenge the company to do more.

No one has been charged with any crime in relation to the volcano.

Chalid Muhammad, who heads a campaign group, the Movement to Promote Justice for the Lapindo Victims, said: "The government only needs to have the political will and the political courage to push the company to pay compensation."All the while, as the people of Sidoarjo pray for help and as Lapindo Brantas continues to deny responsibility for what happened, the world's largest mud volcano continues to spew mud and grow.

The Big Burn: Idaho and Montana, August 1910

By: John Galvin
Published on: July 31, 2007

The men who heroically fought the wildfire ripping through 3 million acres of Idaho and Montana, late in August 1910, were up against a formidable enemy. "The forests staggered, rocked, exploded and then shriveled under the holocaust," wrote local historian Betty Goodwin Spencer. "Great red balls of fire rolled up the mountainsides. Crown fires, from 1 to 10 miles wide, streaked with yellow and purple and scarlet, raced through treetops 150 feet from the ground."

The speed of the inferno was both breathtaking and deadly. "You can't outrun wind and fire that are traveling 70 miles an hour," Spencer wrote. "You can't hide when you are entirely surrounded by red-hot color. You can't see when it's pitch black in the afternoon."

In contrast, summer that year seemed to drag on forever, slow-cooking the upper Rocky Mountains until they were dry as a desert. Along the Bitterroot Range that divides Montana and Idaho, the temperature in April was the highest on record. May was even hotter and drier. Barely an inch of rain fell on the forests in June, and none fell in July — this for an area that received up to 60 in. of rainfall a year on some mountains. As the hot, waterless stretch grew in length and intensity, the pine-green forests turned parched and brown.

• Historian Q&A: Save the Forest or the People?

In the arid understory, lightning strikes and sparks from the railroad found perfect tinder. By the end of July, more than 90 major fires blazed on or near Idaho's Coeur d'Alene National Forest and Lolo National Forest in western Montana. As many as 4000 newly recruited firefighters camped in the woods, struggling to put them out. Hundreds more minor fires were simply left to burn. The situation was so desperate by Aug. 8 that federal foresters asked for military assistance. Troops were deployed to the front lines of the fire and to towns such as Wallace, Idaho, that lay in its path. Wallace became so dry that town officials decided to ignite dynamite for 60 straight hours, hoping that the thunderous explosions would jolt rain from the sky.

It didn't work, but by the 17th things nonetheless were looking better. Swaths of land continued to burn, but the fire seemed to be contained.

Then, on Aug. 20, the forest exploded. A bizarre cold front with 75-mph winds came howling out of the west, feeding oxygen to hundreds of fires and merging them into one great inferno. Joe Halm's firefighting crew was positioned near the headwaters of the St. Joe River in Idaho when the forest around him combusted. "As if by magic, sparks were fanned to flames, which licked the trees into one great conflagration," recalled Halm, a 1909 graduate of the Washington State College forestry school, in a 1944 history compiled by the U.S. Forest Service. "A slight wind now stirred the treetops overhead; a faint, distant roar was wafted to my ears. The men heard it — a sound as of heavy wind or a distant waterfall."

What they heard was the wall of fire rushing headlong toward them. As the heat grew unbearable, Halm and his crew retreated into a gravelly creek. Armed with nothing but buckets of water, they fought to maintain their haven. Around them, trees crashed to the ground and firebrands whipped through the air. One man tried to sprint away to certain death; Halm reeled him back in.

"A few yards below, a great logjam, an acre or more in extent, the deposit of a cloudburst in years gone by, became a roaring furnace, a threatening hell," Halm wrote. "If the wind changed, a single blast from this inferno would wipe us out. Our drenched clothing steamed and smoked; still the men fought." Halm's crew persevered for hours until, eventually, the fire turned and marched northwards.

Elsewhere, firefighters were not so lucky. Twenty-eight men died trying to outrun the flames, at a place called Setzer Creek, 6 miles outside of Avery, Idaho. Others fled into old mine shafts, where they were charred when the tunnels became blast furnaces.

"A crew of 19 spilled off the ridge overlooking Big Creek [in the Coeur d'Alene National Forest] and sought refuge in the Dittman cabin," recounts Stephen Pyne, the event's pre-eminent historian and author of Year of the Fires. "When the roof caught fire, they ran out. The first 18 died where they fell, in a heap along with five horses and two bears; the 19th twisted his ankle in crossing the threshold and collapsed to the ground, where he found a sheath of fresh air. Two days later, Peter Kinsley crawled, alive, out of a creek."

A 50-person crew near the Middle Fork of Big Creek, led by ranger John Bell, dove facedown into a stream as the flames leapt across the tree crowns, burning the skin on the backs of their necks. A falling tree crushed three of them, according to Stan Cohen and Don Miller in The Big Burn, by Jeanette Ingold; seven others were roasted to death after fleeing into a hole dug out by a homesteader.

But the story that would come to define the Big Blowup of 1910 — becoming part of Western mythology and helping to cement federal firefighting policy for the following 90 years — was that of 40-year-old Edward Pulaski.

The forest ranger was leading 35 to 40 firefighters in a retreat from a wall of flames descending upon their position at Placer Creek, 10 miles southwest of Wallace. Unbeknownst to the crew, some townspeople had set a backfire — a last-ditch attempt to clear out fuel and save Wallace from the approaching blaze. As the two fires raced toward them, Pulaski ordered his men into an abandoned mining tunnel and told them all to lie facedown in the mud. As heat and flames lapped at the tunnel's entrance, Pulaski covered it with blankets and fought the fire with his bare hands, until he blacked out from smoke inhalation like the rest of his crew.

Around midnight, according to Pyne's account, one firefighter awoke and made his way to Wallace, where a search party was organized. When the rescuers reached the tunnel, five men had died — but the others survived. Pulaski was temporarily blind, and his lungs were so damaged that he breathed with great difficulty, but he lived to develop the firefighting tool that now bears his name.

When the sun rose on the morning of Aug. 21, 1910, Wallace had lost a third of its town to the fire. Nearby Grand Forks was completely incinerated. On the other side of the range, in Montana, the towns of Taft, DeBorgia, Henderson and Haugan were all destroyed. Smoke filled the sky as far south as Denver and east as far as New York state. Sailors on the Pacific Ocean claimed they couldn't see the stars that night. Two days later, a cold front swept over the Bitterroots, releasing a steady rain, and the great fire was finally extinguished. But not before seven civilians and 78 firefighters had died.

The Aftermath
Though the U.S. Forest Service came into existence in 1905, it was the "Big Burn" of 1910 that defined its mission. By the time the first flame leapt from the forest that year, the debate over whether or not to fight wildfires was already being hotly debated across the West. Some people argued that fires were part of a forest's natural evolution. But Teddy Roosevelt conservationists, who staffed the new agency, were eager to protect forests from danger — and fire, they believed, was as perilous as any clear-cut.

The utter destruction caused by the fires of 1910, along with the heroic stand of Edward Pulaski, helped cement an antifire ideology in the Forest Service. Congress poured money into the effort and, by 1935, the head of the service — a veteran of the Big Blowup, Gus Silcox — declared that all forest fires should be extinguished by 10 am the following day. The service created its own army to fight fires, replete with ground troops to dig trenches and set backfires, elite smoke jumpers to parachute into remote areas and an air force of tankers, reconnaissance planes and helicopters.

Even as Silcox was declaring war on wildfires, some foresters and conservationists began to question whether the policy was actually healthy for the ecosystem. Fire, it soon became clear, was an integral part of forest ecology. Yet as waves of people moved into forested areas, it became even more imperative to hold fire back.

Because fire has not been allowed to thin forests naturally, land that has historically had 30 trees per acre now has 300 to 3000 per acre — resulting in plenty of fuel for the next lightning strike. In fact, the area of forestland that burned between 1994 and 2002 more than tripled from 2.5 million to 7 million acres.

The observation that aggressively fighting all fires can lead to bigger, more frequent blowups is an irony that's finally begun to be appreciated institutionally. Today, land managers in both the National Park Service and Forest Service are at work developing fire management plans that will clarify which fires should be fought, which should be allowed to burn, and which, even, should be set intentionally.

Great Alaskan Earthquake and Tsunami: Alaska, March 1964

By: John Galvin
Published on: July 31, 2007

The magnitude 9.2 quake was just the start of it. Underwater landslides gave way to several local tsunamis that destroyed coastlines from British Columbia to California. After a massive rebuilding effort, the sixth of our 10 Worst Disasters of the Last 101 Years has led to round-the-clock seismic monitoring. For expert survival advice and tips, visit our ultimate guide to getting ready for any disaster.

At 5:36 pm on March 27, 1964, the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America, and the second largest in history, rattled coastal Alaska for close to 4 minutes. Though the epicenter of the Great Alaskan Earthquake was deep beneath Prince William Sound — 75 miles east of Anchorage and 56 miles west of Valdez — the magnitude 9.2 temblor rippled water as far away as Louisiana and even made parts of Florida and Texas jump a couple of inches.

Every year the Pacific tectonic plate barges roughly 2 in. into, and under, the North American plate near southern Alaska. Under intense pressure from the friction, the crust bends and strains until it eventually snaps back into place, as it did that March evening. In downtown Anchorage, the quake caused the streets to become asphalt waves, bouncing cars into the air. Parts of the city dropped as much as 30 ft., bringing the Denali Theater marquee on Fourth Avenue to sidewalk level. One block over, the concrete facade of the new J.C. Penney crashed into the sidewalk, killing a crouching pedestrian and a passing driver. At the airport, the control tower toppled over and killed an air traffic controller.

The ground in the Turnagain Heights subdivision simultaneously sank and surged up. "Our whole lawn broke up into chunks of dirt, rock, snow and ice," Turnagain resident Tay Pryor Thomas wrote in National Geographic shortly after the quake. "We were left on a wildly bucking slab; suddenly it tilted sharply, and we had to hang on to keep from slipping into a yawning chasm."

A "tectonic tsunami," different from the landslide-generated local tsunamis, was caused as the quake heaved 100,000 square miles of Prince William Sound either up or down. Near Kodiak, the ground surged permanently out of the water by 30 ft., while near Portage it dropped by eight. The displaced water went pulsing down and across the Pacific Ocean and didn't stop until it hit Japan.

The local tsunamis struck within seconds; it took longer for the tectonic tsunami to radiate out. Twenty minutes after the local wave set Seward on fire, the tectonic tsunami rolled in looking as if it, too, was aflame. "[As] the fire was really roaring, the wave came up Resurrection Bay there and spread it everywhere. It was an eerie thing to see — a huge tide of fire washing ashore," recalled railroad employee Gene Kirkpatrick to National Geographic a few days later.

Back in Cordova, which had suffered only minor damage, the crew of the Sedge finally got underway and was ordered to Valdez. The cutter was in Cordova's 60-ft. shipping channel when it began to drop.

"Our Fathometer just kept dropping," remembers Pete Corson, who realized the tide was being sucked out of the channel. "It was very strange. It was incredibly dark outside, and these giant snowflakes were falling so it was very hard to see, but we could hear this loud clapping — which were halibut flapping on the seabed." The Sedge came to rest on the channel bottom and 10 minutes later the water rushed back in. "We rode it out under anchor and then went on our way."

The tsunami continued its inexorable southerly push at 415 mph. For the next 2 hours it rolled down the British Columbia coastline, damaging a logging camp in Shield's Bay and destroying 16 houses in Hot Springs Cove. It did more of the same in Washington state.

In Newport, Ore., around 11 pm, it came ashore at Beverly Beach State Park, where a family of five was camping. The mother and father survived, but all three children were swept away.

At 11:52, the first of four tsunami waves struck Crescent City, Calif., just south of the Oregon border. All 10 deaths, and nearly all of the damage, were a result of the final 15.7-ft. wave that struck at 1:45 am.

"It was like a violent explosion. A thunderous roar mingled with all the confusion. Everywhere we looked, buildings, cars, lumber and boats shifted around like crazy. The whole beachfront moved, changing before our very eyes. By this time, the fire had spread to the Texaco bulk tanks. They started exploding one after another, lighting up the sky," recalled Peggy Coons in The Raging Sea by Dennis Powers.

By the time it got to San Francisco, the wave was just a couple of feet high. It damaged several yachts and did more of the same in Hilo, Hawaii. When it reached Japan it was barely visible, but it was still strong enough to damage pearl farms along the eastern coast.

The Aftermath
The Great Alaskan Earthquake and Tsunami of 1964 caused more than $300 million in damage along the Pacific Coast from Anchorage to Los Angeles, according to a report compiled by the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center. In fact, the '64 tsunami was responsible for the creation of the center, located in Palmer, Alaska. Since 1967 scientists on round-the-clock duty monitor seismic activity, tidal gauges and data-collection buoys in order to determine when to issue tsunami warnings. Besides being broadcast to the public, the warnings also trigger alerts to local, state and federal emergency officials as well as to the military and the Coast Guard.

After the quake, the State of Alaska and the federal government went to work cleaning up. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent $110 million dollars rebuilding roads and clearing debris in Alaska. The native village of Chenega, which was completely destroyed, was moved to higher ground. Likewise the town of Valdez, which sat at the mouth of a silty glacial drainage, was abandoned and rebuilt a few miles west atop a foundation of solid bedrock.

The structural damage to downtown Anchorage was extensive, but the timing of the earthquake, Good Friday evening, undoubtedly spared many lives. As part of its Advanced National Seismic System, the U.S. Geological Survey has recently outfitted a few buildings with complex motion sensors to understand how they respond to quakes. Because of Anchorage's seismically active location — Alaska's 5000 to 6000 annual earthquakes are more than occur in the rest of the U.S. combined — its 20-story Robert Atwood Building is one of the most thoroughly monitored structures in the country.

The building is outfitted with 32 instruments from basement to ceiling to detect the "swaying," "twisting," "rocking" and "drift" that result from seismic waves. Seven boreholes, ranging from the surface to a depth of 200 ft., also contain instruments to monitor seismic activity. "We want to see what designs work, and what kind of damage, often structurally hidden, appears," says Mehmet Celebi, a research engineer with the USGS. "In the two years since it's been instrumented we've had 20 small- to medium-size earthquakes in the area. We're waiting for a large event to see how the building really reacts."