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 Published by the American Geological Institute
February 2001
Newsmagazine of the Earth Sciences


Earthquake in El Salvador
A magnitude-7.6 earthquake centered off the coast of El Salvador triggered numerous landslides on Jan. 13. As many as 1,000 residents were buried under 8 meters of earth in Las Colinas, a suburb of the capital city of San Salvador. Reports of those missing across the country reached as high as 4,000.

The hilly terrain of El Salvador, with greater topographic relief than Mexico, made the country vulnerable to landslides, says John Filson, earthquake hazard program manager of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The 40-kilometer deep, thrust earthquake with a strike northwest and southeast was felt throughout Central America, as far as Mexico City. It hit on the convergence of the Cocos Plate and the Caribbean Plate. In the three days following the temblor, at least five aftershocks were recorded with a magnitude of 5.4 or greater.

Mexico's last millennium blast
Popocatépetl in Mexico erupted in a brilliant nighttime shower of rock and lava on Dec. 18 — reportedly the largest eruption of the volcano in a thousand years. More than 50,000 people were urged to evacuate as the activity continued through Dec. 19. Scientists watching what is one of the most closely monitored volcanoes in the world saw Popocatépetl jet almost continual plumes of smoke from Dec. 13-16 while ash columns rose 5,000 meters. Days prior to the eruption levels of sulfur dioxide in the plumes jumped from tens of metric tons to nearly 100 metric tons. The 27 seismic stations around the volcano tracked a growing number of harmonic tremors; one lasted more than 10 hours on Dec. 16.  At the time of eruption, approximately 21,600 people were already staying in shelters. Activity slowed by Dec. 20, but officials are tracking a nearby glacier for possible landslide threats.

Floods, fires batter Australia
On Jan. 5, Australian officials began airlifting food and supplies to communities in the northern state of Queensland surrounded by floodwater. The flooded areas cover nearly 58,000 square miles and have left some communities isolated for the past six weeks.

Record rainfall in December caused rivers to swell near Burketown, where about 2,500 people were stranded. The region has been experiencing flooding since October, but Carpentaria Shire Council mayor Les Wilson told Reuters the state experiences its heaviest rains from January through March.

Meanwhile, brushfires raged across two states in southwestern Australia. The fires have burned more than 1,000 acres of bushland outside Sydney. The fires have mostly been contained, and firefighters are working to put out 100 smaller grass fires.

California still smoking
A wildfire broke out in San Diego on Jan. 3, destroying as much as 10,353 acres. Investigators believe a careless smoker driving westbound on Interstate 8 sparked the wildfire after tossing a lit cigarette onto the median. Two people suffered minor injuries, including a firefighter whose face was burned. Some 2,000 firefighters battled the blaze at a cost of  $3 million.

Earthquake shakes Japan
A magnitude 5.3 earthquake shook northern Japan on Jan. 4. The quake was centered about 12 miles underground in the Niigata Prefecture.

The Associated Press reports there were no injuries or property damage, although bullet trains in the area were stopped and inspected. Japan, which sits on 4 tectonic plates, is prone to frequent earthquakes.

Floods in Mozambique
The opening of a dam gate in Zambia caused flooding in northern Mozambique, according to Reuters. Officials evacuated about 10,000 people from low-lying farmlands in the Tete province.

 Zambia opened a spillway gate on a dam in the Kariba River to ease pressure on the reservoir. Zambian officials had earlier dismissed the worries that this action would cause flooding in Mozambique.

Last year’s floods killed 700 people and washed away roads, bridges and towns.

Killer freeze hits Asia
The sparsely populated Chinese region of Inner Mongolia has been frozen by a snowstorm that sealed off homes, trapping residents inside. Convoys carrying heating oil, food and animal feed have found some roads impassable, and on others the snow has slowed their progress to a mere 96 kilometers (60 miles) a day, the government-run Beijing Youth Daily reported.

Authorities were still trying to determine how many people were cut off, said You Xiaoping, a local disaster relief official. News reports said at least 180,000 people were affected.

Christina Reed compiles Geophenomena.

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