Archive | Natural Disasters

Drought in Amazon Gave Off More CO2 than U.S. in a Year

An extensive drought in the Amazon rain forest last year spurred massive carbon dioxide emissions, British and Brazilian scientists said Thursday. They fear the devastating event may become a common occurrence, turning the world’s largest rain forest from an absorber of heat-trapping gases into a source of the harmful emissions.

Simon Lewis, an ecologist at the University of Leeds, and his team of researchers said in a study published Thursday that 2010′s crippling dry spell was worse than a “once-in-a-century” 2005 drought and may have caused more emissions than the United States does in a year.

Forests abundant in vegetation help diminish carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by soaking it up as they grow, but they release the heat-trapping gas when they die and biodegrade.

The 2010 drought was severe enough to leave major Amazonian rivers dry, stranding thousands who depend on boat transport. It followed the region’s dry spell in 2005, a drought so severe that scientists had dubbed it a “once-in-a-century” event at the time.

But last year’s drought was even more intense than the one five years before, scientists discovered. It caused rainfall shortages that affected a 1.16 million square-mile expanse of the Amazon, compared with the 734,000 square miles exposed to drought in 2005.

The 2010 dry spell also caused higher tree mortality and had three major epicenters, as opposed to the 2005 drought, which was mainly concentrated in one area in the southwestern Amazon.

The Amazon typically soaks up around 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon per year. According to the study, the forest will release 5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2010 and 2011 for a total impact of about 8 billion metric tons. That’s below the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions in 2009, which were approximately 5.4 billion metric tons.

“If events like this happen more often, the Amazon rain forest would reach a point where it shifts from being a valuable carbon sink slowing climate change to a major source of greenhouse gases that could speed it up,” Lewis said.

The study was published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Science.

Posted in Drought & Shortages, Global Warming, Natural Disasters0 Comments

Cyclone Yasi Hits Queensland Coast

Cyclone Yasi struck the coast of Australia’s northeastern state of Queensland in total darkness Wednesday night, as the flood-ravaged region braced for yet another environmental catastrophe.

The huge storm appeared to make landfall in Mission Beach, Queensland, but there are no gauges in the area to take precise measurements. The storm was downgraded from a Category 5 to 4 earlier in the day, but its true force may never be known, UPI reported.

Another area of coastline from Cairns to Townsville was also affected, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. said.

The Australian weather service reported wind gusts as high as 110 to 180 mph around Innisfail.

The government ordered evacuations and airlifted hospital patients out of harm’s way on Tuesday. By Wednesday, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh advised residents who had not evacuated to remain in the area.

“No one should be leaving home now. The time for movement and evacuation has now passed,” Bligh said Wednesday morning, as quoted by UPI.

Yasi comes after driving rains flooded an area the size of France and Germany combined in and around Brisbane, the nation’s third-largest city.

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Cyclone Yasi Churns Toward Flood-Ravaged Queensland

A potentially deadly storm system, Cyclone Yasi, is swirling toward Australia’s northeastern state of Queensland, an area still recovering from last month’s massive flooding.

On Tuesday officials airlifted hospital patients out of the cyclone’s path and urged residents in low-lying areas to evacuate immediately due to risk of flash flooding. The evacuation warnings were not mandatory.

Queensland state Premier told reporters that the 400-mile front Yasi “is huge and life threatening.”

Experts said the Category 3 storm could be the worst cyclone in Queensland’s history after it hits the coast as a Category 4 storm Wednesday.

The storm was expected to unleash winds of 131 to 155 mph and dump up to 3 feet of rain on areas already ravaged by flooding, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Those floods left 35 people dead from December to Jan. 13, affecting 30,000 homes and businesses in the Brisbane area, UPI reports. The government expects damages from the tropical deluge to cost about $5.6 billion.

Yasi was expected to steer north of Brisbane, but Bligh urged all the flood-weary residents of Queenland’s coastal communities to prepare for the worst.

“It’s such a big storm – it’s a monster, killer storm – that it’s not just about where this crosses the coast that is at risk,” Bligh said, as quoted by The Associated Press.

“I know many of us will feel that Queensland has already borne about as much as we can bear when it comes to disasters and storms,” she said. “But more is being asked of us.”

The storm was expected to hit hardest in Cairns, a tourist gateway city of some 164,000 people. More than 9,000 people were ordered to evacuate from that region.

Posted in Climate Science & Weather, Natural Disasters0 Comments

Earthquake Hits Southwest Pakistan

A 7.2-magnitude earthquake rattled southwest Pakistan on Wednesday, geologists said. There were no reports of damage or injuries.

The intense quake hit at about 1:23 a.m. (2023 Tuesday GMT) about 29 miles west-southwest of the city of Dalandin, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or building damage in the rural region, AFP reports.

The original USGS report said the shaker had a preliminary magnitude of 7.4 and struck at a depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles). Quakes that shallow can cause major devastation, CNN reports.

The USGS said in a revised bulletin that the tremor hit at a depth of 84 kilometers (52 miles).

“The earthquake occurred at around 1:23 am and it was felt in Baluchistan, Sindh and southern Punjab provinces,” chief meteorologist Mohammad Riaz told AFP.

“There could be aftershocks during the next week — there are active fault lines in Baluchistan.”

A 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck Northern Pakistan on Oct. 8, 2005, leaving over 73,000 dead and about 3.5 million homeless.

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Brazil Mudslides Kill Over 300

Mudslides have killed at least 348 people in Brazil, officials said Thursday.

Heavy rains sent tons of earth sliding off mountains in the region north of Rio de Janeiro and an overflowing river submerged buildings in Teresopolis, the BBC reported.

Towns in the mountainous region reported a staggering number of fatalities: Nova Friburgo confirmed 168 dead, Teresopolis reported 146 dead and Petropolis reported 34 dead.

Officials say dozens more are missing and there could be hundreds more bodies yet to be recovered.

“It’s a huge catastrophe, a major disaster,” Teresopolis Mayor Jorge Mario said, according to UPI.

10 inches of rain pummeled the region in less than 24 hours. Even after the rains ended yesterday, floodwaters raged down the mountains as survivors waded through waist-high water, scrambling for higher ground.

“What happened here was worse than what happened in 2008,” said Petropolis Mayor Paul Mustrangi. “There is nothing left. All the houses were hit.”

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Brisbane Floods Leave “War Zone”

Flooding in Brisbane, Australia left 27,000 homes underwater and 100,000 without power Thursday, officials said.

Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city, was inundated by the overflowing Brisbane River, which peaked Thursday 40 inches below feared disastrous levels. But officials say water levels will remain dangerously high until early next week, and could rise significantly again.

Floods in Australia’s northeastern state of Queensland have swamped an area the size of France and Germany combined and killed at least 23 people since the deluge began in November.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh described the state of the city as a “war zone.”

“We’ve seen scenes of unbelievable devastation and destruction — entire suburbs where only rooftops can be glimpsed … whole industrial parks, railway stations underwater, bridges, roads all closed,” she told Sky News. “What I’m seeing looks more like a war zone in some places.”

Analysts with JPMorgan Chase & Co. predict damages could run up a $13 billion bill.

The flooding has been attributed to the La Nina ocean-atmosphere weather event.

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Small Earthquake Stirs Central California

A small earthquake shook central California Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The 4.5-magnitude tremor struck Monterey County at 12:51 a.m., with an epicenter 6 miles south-southeast of San Juan Bautista and 45 miles southeast of San Jose.

A series of light aftershocks, including a 3.4 temblor, rattled the region in the early morning hours afterward.

There were no reports of damage or injuries. The quake was not even strong enough to shake books from shelves, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Posted in Earthquakes, Natural Disasters0 Comments

Brisbane Flooding Empties City, Swamps Streets

Floodwaters inundated Brisbane Wednesday, forcing mass evacuations from Australia’s third-largest city.

Officials say as many as 40,000 private, commercial and public buildings will be affected by the flooding, which has caused the Brisbane River to engulf 34 of the city’s suburbs.

The raging torrents have reached the tops of traffic lights in some parts of the city, The Associated Press reported.

The Brisbane River was expected to rise 14 feet above normal Wednesday and peak at 17 feet above normal Thursday, according to UPI.

Utility officials said about 70,000 homes in the Brisbane area were without power by Wednesday afternoon.

The deluge in Brisbane comes after weeks of driving rains in Australia’s northeastern state of Queensland left at least 22 people dead and 44 more missing.

Earlier this week, flash floods swept through the city of Toowoomba, sweeping cars and people down the streets. Twelve people died in that flood alone.

Emergency officials have set up evacuation centers around the Brisbane area, UPI said. The airport put up about 150 flood evacuees Tuesday after it was incorrectly listed as an evacuation center, although it was not equipped with proper emergency supplies.

Authorities received over 32,000 calls for assistance overnight.

Prior to the Brisbane flooding, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh estimated that damages could cost about $5 billion.

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Inland Tsunami Kills 10 in Queensland, Australia

The “inland tsunami” that swept through Australia’s Lockyer valley Monday killed at least ten and left 78 missing, authorities said Tuesday.

Military helicopters are currently scouring the floodwaters near Toowomba in Australia’s Queensland state for the missing 78 people.

A violent torrent of water streamed through the valley Monday, ripping houses from their foundations and tossing cars like toys as people clung to telephone poles and rooftops.

The raging channel slowed as it headed toward Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city, where some fear floodwaters are set to strike next.

“This is a truly dire set of circumstances for the people of Queensland, with more flooding to come,” Prime Minister Julia Gillard told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television, according to The Associated Press.

The steady deluge in Queensland, which has swamped an area the size of France and Germany combined, began before Christmas. Monday’s devastating 6-foot wall of water brings the overall death toll to 20.

Authorities rescued over 40 Lockyer Valley residents from rooftops and evacuated thousands more. In the nearby town of Forest Hill, emergency services officers airlifted the entire population of 300 people to safety.

Search and rescue efforts were impeded by the unremitting rain and heavy thunderstorms.

Brisbane authorities are preparing for 6,500 buildings to be flooded by about 3 feet of water in the coming days, potentially affecting about 15,000 people in 80 suburbs.

Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson called Monday’s flash flood in Toowoomba “an inland instant tsunami,” AP reports. Officials warned that more flash floods could occur Tuesday.

Posted in Natural Disasters, Water, Oceans, & Ice0 Comments

Queensland Floods Leave 8 Dead

Australian authorities say the death toll from the Queensland floods has risen to eight, with more than 70 missing after a flash flood tore through the city of Toowoomba Monday.

The sudden 2-meter torrent of water carried away cars and pedestrians and left people clinging to rooftops and telephone poles.

There are mounting fears that the floods will hit nearby Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city.

Officials said more than 40 people were rescued from rooftops by helicopter.

Police have launched a major rescue operation for the 72 people still missing.

The state of Queensland has been swamped with heavy rains since before Christmas, causing the worst flooding in decades.

Posted in Natural Disasters, Water, Oceans, & Ice0 Comments

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