HIGHLIGHTS — Hazards
Greece Burns, Southern Europe Swelters
The 2007 fire season in Greece was the worst on record, according to Greek authorities. A sweltering heat wave that struck Southern Europe in the summer combined with an intense drought across much of the region to parch forests and scrublands. More than 3,000 fires swept through Greece this year, including a series of more than 170 fires in August that killed dozens of people and threatened or burned through 3,000-year-old ruins, especially on the Peloponnese Peninsula, according to The Associated Press (AP), Aug. 25. Meanwhile, fires blazed across Italy, Bulgaria and much of Macedonia, where temperatures reached 45 degrees Celsius (114 degrees Fahrenheit), AP reported July 26.
Government officials in Greece and Italy blamed at least a few of the fires on arsonists trying to clear land for development, as Greece and Italy have laws forbidding forestland from being developed, but if the land were no longer forest, people thought that development could perhaps go forth.
In Romania, the drought and heat wave destroyed some $2 billion worth of crops and killed dozens of people. As wells dried up, many communities across the region were left without drinkable water. In Albania, some residents dealt with water shortages by having municipal water for only two hours a day, while others had to contend with power cuts for up to 15 hours a day for more than a month, according to AP.
When the hot Santa Ana winds started blowing across Southern California in late October, fires raged, thanks in large part to a severe drought that left the region with rainfall almost 23 centimeters below normal. As of Oct. 30, well more than half a million acres had burned in two dozen separate fires across seven counties, with more than half of the damage in San Diego County alone, according to the California Department of Forestry and Protection. At least seven people died, 130 were injured, and almost 3,000 homes and structures were destroyed, according to the California Office of Emergency Services on Oct. 30. Insurers and financial analysts estimate the costs to insurers will top $1 billion.
Things could have been a lot worse, however, if not for preparedness tactics implemented following the 2003 fires in Southern California that burned 750,000 acres and 3,640 homes. One intriguing tactic undertaken by the town of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., is to design homes and landscaping so that residents can “shelter-in-place” — ride out the fires in their homes instead of evacuating — and so their houses will be “ignition-resistant,” The Associated Press (AP) reported Oct. 29. The extremely strict construction and landscaping standards adopted by the community in 1997, such as installing nonflammable roofs, indoor sprinklers and restricting the types and sizes of landscaping vegetation, may become more widespread in the wake of this year’s fire season, given that none of the homes with these restrictions burned, despite nearby neighborhoods burning to the ground, AP reported.
The Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Tennessee Valley are under the worst drought conditions seen in more than a century, according to NOAA. Forty-six percent of the country was under drought conditions this fall, NOAA said, with more than a quarter of the Southeast under the worst conditions on a five-stage scale. In North Carolina, the governor asked residents not to use any water that was “not essential to public health and safety.” In South Carolina, hefty fines were handed out for anyone caught watering their lawns. In Georgia, the governor declared 85 counties disaster areas, and threatened to sue the Army Corps of Engineers over the water situation. And as of mid-October, some experts said there was less than a three months’ supply of water left in the lake that provides most of the water for Atlanta, the Christian Science Monitor reported Oct. 22. Some are calling this the worst summer drought since the Dust Bowl.
Record temperatures contributed to the drought conditions, NOAA said. In September, temperatures in the United States hit the eighth warmest on record, breaking 1,000 daily high records across the country.
Meanwhile, summer heat waves across the South and Midwest killed dozens of people, and drought and warmer temperatures pushed the water level in Lake Superior to its lowest point on record, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Nearly a dozen people died in floods that stretched across the United Kingdom in June and July, due to abnormally heavy rains. Some areas received more than a month’s supply of rainfall in a day, and some parts received the heaviest rains since recordings began, according to the U.K. Met Office. It was England’s wettest July on record, and the second wettest on record for the whole United Kingdom. Affecting more than a million people, the rains flooded thousands of homes and left more than 350,000 people without running water for more than a week. Insurance claims could reach up to $4.1 billion (₤2 billion), the Association of British Insurers is quoted as saying in Yahoo Finance News, July 23.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gordon Brown drew a link between the storms and climate change. He announced a review of flood infrastructure and that funding to tackle climate change would increase from $620 million to $1.7 billion (₤300 million to ₤800 million). “We have got to meet the longer term challenges and we have already set up a review into what’s happened both with climate change and the effect of that on the services and what is happening here,” Brown said on July 24, according to the Daily Telegraph.
On May 29, 2006, mud began erupting on Java, Indonesia. That eruption continues, more than a year and a half later, and is not waning, according to Adriano Mazzini of the University of Oslo, who has been studying the mudflow since it began. Researchers have been trying to figure out exactly what caused the mudflow, with hypotheses ranging from nearby gas exploration to an earthquake. A new study, published by Mazzini and colleagues in Earth and Planetary Science Letters July 12, found that a magnitude-6.3 earthquake (which killed 6,000 people) initiated the mudflow (see Geotimes, October 2007). Not everyone agrees, however, and more research is under way. The mudflow is erupting between 5,000 and 180,000 cubic meters per day, and has buried the Indonesian countryside under more than six cubic kilometers of hot mud, Mazzini says.
When Geotimes went to press, no magnitude-9.0 temblors had occurred in 2007, but large earthquakes had killed hundreds of people and caused millions of dollars of damage. Here’s a snapshot of a few major events.
Sept. 12 - A magnitude-8.4 earthquake struck near Bengkulu, Sumatra, Indonesia, triggering a small tsunami. That quake was soon followed by a magnitude-7.8 temblor 225 kilometers away. The two temblors were followed by numerous strong aftershocks that rocked the island for more than a day. Together, the quakes and the tsunami killed at least 25 people, injured more than 160 people and damaged or destroyed more than 52,500 buildings in the region.
Aug. 15 – A relatively shallow magnitude-8.0 earthquake struck off the coast of central Peru, about 150 kilometers south of Lima, causing massive destruction, killing more than 510 people and injuring an additional 1,500 people.
Aug. 9 – A magnitude-7.5 earthquake struck off the coast of Java, Indonesia, just 100 kilometers from Jakarta. The quake awakened residents and shook tall buildings, but damage was minimal.
Aug. 6 – A magnitude-3.9 “seismic event” was recorded by seismometers in Utah — but the event, seismologists said, was actually a cave-in at the Crandall Canyon Mine, not an earthquake. The cave-in trapped six miners deep belowground. A few days later, three rescuers died trying to save the trapped miners, and the search was suspended.
Aug. 2 – Three earthquakes all greater than magnitude-6.0 struck off Russia’s Sakhalin Island, killing two people and causing minor damage. Initial concerns about oil and gas infrastructure at the site were unfounded.
July 16 – A magnitude-6.7 earthquake struck Japan’s western coast, killing at least seven people, injuring hundreds more and damaging one of the world’s largest nuclear power plants, which subsequently leaked water into the Sea of Japan.
June 3 – A shallow magnitude-6.2 earthquake struck China’s Yunnan province, killing three people, injuring more than 300 and forcing 180,000 people to evacuate from their homes. Damages were estimated at $327 million.
April 2 – A magnitude-8.0 earthquake and several strong aftershocks rocked the Solomon Islands, causing a several-meter-tall tsunami that hit the southwestern coast of the islands and killed dozens of people.
March 6 – A deadly magnitude-6.4 earthquake shook Padang, Sumatra, Indonesia, killing more than 70 people and sending residents scurrying to higher ground in fear of a tsunami. No tsunami was reported.
Tsunami and drought legislation pass
Midwest, South flooded
New Madrid fault dying?
Rare Middle East cyclone strikes
Ancient earthquakes, tsunamis and geomorphological changes in the Mediterranean
China says Olympics will be dry
A volcanic year