Nature's Nightmares
August 22, 2019

Environmental groups and researchers say the fires destroying the Amazon were almost all set by humans, as cattle ranchers and loggers want to take over the land.

Brazil's National Institute for Space Research said that so far this year, there have been 72,843 fires in the country, an 80 percent increase compared to this same time period in 2018; more than half of those blazes have been in the Amazon. The Amazon is a humid rainforest, and it is difficult, even during dry spells, for it to catch on fire, Christian Poirier of the nonprofit group Amazon Watch told CNN.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro promised during his campaign that he would open the Amazon up to business, and he has since slashed the environmental enforcement agency's budget. Environmentalists say his policies encourage ranchers and loggers to burn down land, with no fear about getting in trouble. The government has said lightning strikes are one reason for the fires, and Bolsonaro has also claimed baselessly that the fires were started by environmentalists to make him look bad.

The Amazon forest produces roughly 20 percent of the world's oxygen, and the World Wildlife Fund said if it is damaged beyond repair, the Amazon could start emitting carbon, which would make climate change even worse. Catherine Garcia

May 23, 2019

Residents of Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Texas, Iowa, and Nebraska reported at least 80 tornadoes since Monday, with at least 22 tornado reports by late Wednesday, including a "violent tornado" in Jefferson City, Missouri, that may have caused fatalities. At least seven people have been reported dead from storm-related causes, mostly in Missouri, ABC News reports. And days of heavy rains have caused near-record flooding in the Midwest, especially Oklahoma, where 9 inches of rain have fallen on saturated ground since Sunday.

The Arkansas River is 9 feet above flood stage in parts of Oklahoma, and two barges that broke away in the flood prompted evacuation orders for several small towns on the other side of a dam downstream. The Missouri and Mississippi Rivers are at or approaching flood stages from Iowa and Illinois down to Missouri — the Mississippi is expected to crest 12 feet vote flood stage in St. Louis on Monday. And the rain-swollen Cimarron River is eating away its banks toward homes about 34 miles north of Oklahoma City.

In fact, at least one unoccupied house slipped into the Cimarron on Tuesday and floated away. Others are at risk of sliding into the river, too.

The extreme weather is expected to linger in the Plains states Thursday but part of the storm will head east, delivering heavy rain, strong wind gusts, hail, and tornados to parts of the East Coast, from New England to West Virginia. Peter Weber

May 3, 2019

Cyclone Fani made landfall in India's eastern Bay of Bangal on Friday morning as an "extremely severe" grade 5 storm, the India Meteorological Department said. Grade 5 is the second-highest rating, equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane, and wind gusts of up to 127 mile per hour were recorded in Odisha state, where the cyclone came ashore in the beach resort city Puri. Authorities evacuated an unprecedented 1.2 million people from low-lying areas of Odisha, moving them to about 4,000 shelters further inland, India's National Disaster Response Force said.

Three deaths have been reported in Odisha due to the cyclone, BBC News says. A 1999 "super" cyclone that killed about 10,000 people had wind speeds of up to 173 mph, so "this is not as bad," said India Meteorological Department's Dr. M. Mohapatra. And warning systems are better. More than 200 trains were canceled across India, and the airport in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), the capital, is closed from from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning. The cyclone has even disrupted the weather on Mount Everest, The Associated Press reports, during the month that's typically best for climbing the world's highest peak. Peter Weber

March 20, 2019

Mozambique began three days of mourning on Wednesday for the hundreds killed by Cyclone Idai, which caused what emergency workers are calling the most destructive flooding in southern Africa in 20 years. The death toll stands at more than 200 in Mozambique, 98 in Zimbabwe, and 56 in Malawi, but the final number of dead is expected to top 1,000. "The full horror, the full impact is only going to emerge over coming days," Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane said in Geneva.

The Red Cross says at least 400,000 people have likely lost their homes in central Mozambique, where flooding has covered an area of more than 150 square miles. The cyclone destroyed up to 90 percent of Mozambique's second-largest port, Beira, a city of 500,000 that also provides access to landlocked countries in the region.

The European Union and Britain have pledged financial and other aid, and the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe said America was "mobilizing to provide support" to partners in the three affected nations, but provided no details. You can learn more and see images of the flooding in the CBS News report below. Peter Weber

January 28, 2019

A tornado ripped through three neighborhoods in eastern Havana on Sunday night, killing at least three people, injuring 172 more, and destroying dozens of homes.

Miguel Angel Hernandez of the Cuban Center for Meteorology said the tornado was a Category F3, with winds between 155 and 199 mph, The Associated Press reports. This was the strongest tornado to hit Cuba in almost eight decades; a Category 4 touched town in Bejucal on Dec. 26, 1940. Sunday night's tornado was produced by a cold front hitting the northern coast of the country.

Officials said that at least 90 homes are completely destroyed, while 30 are heavily damaged. Roofs were torn off by the high winds, and light posts were uprooted, crashing down on cars. On Monday afternoon, about 500,000 people were still without power, and more than 200,000 did not have water. Catherine Garcia

October 18, 2018

The Llano River in central Texas receded on Wednesday, after hitting near-record levels on Tuesday after days of heavy rains. The Llano River, which rose to 30 feet above flood stage, feeds into the Colorado River, and the deluge caused flooding all the way from Llano to Austin. One woman's body was found at a low-water crossing on Wednesday after floodwaters receded, and another person was found dead on the banks of Lake LBJ on Tuesday. At least one bridge, on RM 2900, was washed out completely by the swollen Llano River.

The break in the rains and opened floodgates on dams controlled by the Lower Colorado River Authority helped reduce river levels to just above flood stage on Wednesday, but more rains are expected over the weekend, and with the ground already saturated, the National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for several counties in central Texas. "We really are not sure if this disaster has fully unfolded," said Llano County emergency management coordinator Ron Anderson. "We could see another rise of the Llano River. Whether or not it will be of historic value or not, we do not know yet."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a disaster declaration for 18 counties affected by the flooding on Wednesday. The Austin American Statesman has more photos and numbers in the video below. Peter Weber

October 2, 2018

On Tuesday, Indonesia's disaster agency raised the death toll from Friday's magnitude 7.5 earthquake and subsequent tsunami to 1,234 fatalities, from 844 dead. Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said nearly 800 people are also severely injured, and two communities, Sigi and Balaroa, are not yet included in the casualties count. Indonesian Red Cross officials tell BBC News that the dead include 34 Indonesian students discovered under a church buried by a mudslide. The earthquake and tsunami ravaged the city of Palu and neighboring areas on central Sulawesi island.

The survivors are struggling with a lack of food, water, fuel, and shelter. The first military evacuation flight left Palu on Tuesday carrying injured victims to East Java. Two more shallow earthquakes, magnitude 5.9 and 6, struck the eastern Indonesian island of Sumba on Tuesday, but no injuries have yet been reported. Peter Weber

September 12, 2018

A missing hiker found dead Monday in Oregon's Mount Hood National Forest was probably killed by a cougar, officials said Tuesday. "There's a slim possibly that something else is responsible, but at this point every indication is that a cougar is responsible," Oregon Fish & Wildlife spokesman Brian Wolfer said. Diana Bober, 55, was reported missing on Friday, and her car was found near Welches on Saturday. She had been hiking the Hunchback Trail, which has been closed for now. If DNA confirms the autopsy's conclusion that Bober was killed by a cougar, it would be the first known fatal attack on a human by a wild cougar in Oregon history.

There are about 6,600 cougars in Oregon, and the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office said Oregon Fish & Wildlife will try to track down and kill the cougar who killed Bober, an avid hiker. Attacks by cougars, also called mountain lions, are very rare, though as cougar populations recover and human development spreads into their habitat, cougar sightings have increased. A cougar attacked two mountain bikers in Washington in May, killing one of them, and California and Colorado have had a handful of cougar attacks in recent decades.

If you do encounter a cougar, the Salem Statesman Journal says, first give it a chance to retreat. If the cat doesn't leave, don't run. Stay calm, maintain eye contact, back away slowly, and pick up any children without turning your back on the cougar or bending down. If the animal appears aggressive, raise your arms to make yourself look bigger and clap loudly. And in the unlikely case that the cougar attacks, use anything you have — walking sticks, rocks, your fingers — to fight back. Lauren Serrano and Kelly Andersen at the Orange County Zoo have some more detailed advice below. Peter Weber

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