WEEK OF JANUARY 31, 2003
Earthweek: A Diary of the Planet
Tribune Media Services
The worst of several wildfires raging across vast areas of southeast Australia destroyed
hundreds of homes and killed four people around the capital of Canberra. A senior government researcher hospitalized after
losing his home in an unprecedented
"flaming tornado" that hit the Australian Capital Territory said the firestorm was unstoppable and would cause fire-fighting experts to review 40 years of research
and conventional wisdom. "Im surprised it wasnt worse," said Joe Walker of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research
Organization. "The winds were circular and pulled whole trees out by the roots and were sending sheets of iron all around
me." Blazes also engulfed the historic Mount Stromlo Observatory, where
state-of-the-art detection equipment for astronomical
observation was just being installed. A 22-mile wall of flames gutted
observatory and destroyed its telescopes.
African Flood Crisis
triggered by the remnants of tropical cyclone Delfina late last month continued to ravage parts of Malawi and Mozambique. Incessant rains have persisted weeks after Delfina tracked inland from the Mozambique Channel, inundating
vast tracts of crops and sweeping away homes. The disaster came as the region was struggling to cope with a food crisis that
threatens about 14 million people with starvation.
Congo Flu Epidemic
More than 2,000 people in
the northern part of war-ravaged Congo have died in a flu epidemic that has affected nearly 100,000 people. Congo Health Minister Mashako
Mamba expressed fear that the outbreak could claim many more victims
among the countrys malnourished population. The
epidemic has reached the capital city of Kinshasa, with about a half million of its estimated 6 million residents infected.
At least 28 people in western Mexico were killed when a magnitude 7.8 temblor hit the Pacific coast, shaking an area
from Colima to Veracruz. Hundreds of others were injured, many from falling debris or in quake-related
A powerful magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck Guatemala and neighboring parts of El Salvador, where the shaking unleashed mudslides and cut off power and telephone service.
Earth movements were also
felt across a wide area of Southeast Asia from Sumatra to Bangkok, and in the Solomon Islands, central and southern Japan, southern Iran,
southwestern Bulgaria, Croatia and southwestern
Tropical storm Yanyan formed to the southeast of the Northern Mariana Islands, then veered north and eastward just before reaching Saipan. The storm was a threat only to shipping lanes.
At least 24,000 head of livestock in Mongolia have died in heavy snowfall accompanied by temperatures that dropped to
minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit
this winter. It is the fourth consecutive year the region has experienced the ravaging dzud, a specific Mongolian winter disaster
that follows severe summer droughts. A dzud in 1999 killed about 30 percent of Mongolias livestock. Animals either froze to death or died of starvation after vast areas
of grasslands were covered in deep snow. The situation has prompted huge migrations of nomadic people into urban areas and
sparked a dramatic rise in cases of depression and mental illness.
Gibraltar Strait Spill
A ship carrying 1,400 tons of fuel oil sank off the coast of southern Spain as salvage crews attempted to tow the Spabunker 4 to port. Witnesses in Gibraltar reported that thick diesel oil leaking from the ship had covered a long stretch of Spains coastline. The disaster came as that country continued to battle oil slicks from the sunken tanker
Prestige still blackening its northwestern shore.
The Kenyan lioness made famous by its unprecedented behavior
of adopting oryx calves has lost its latest ward, which was
its mother. The big cat at the Samburu National Game Reserve had adopted yet another oryx baby, the sixth time within a year
she had taken in an animal that would have normally been her prey. The East African Standard reported that the lioness released
the baby oryx to suckle when its mother came around during the night, but the mother and baby later disappeared. The lioness
was said to be frantically looking for its lost "baby."