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SCIENCE FILE | Earthwatch: A Diary of the Planet

Eruptions

June 19, 1997

Lava flowing down Mount Karangetang on the remote Indonesian island of Siau killed two people and forced hundreds of others from their homes. Scalding clouds of deadly vapor also billowed down the flanks of the mountain with little warning.

In Central Java, vulcanologists warned residents around Mount Merapi that the mountain has accumulated the greatest volume of lava in a decade just beneath its dome. It is feared that if the dome collapses, deadly heat clouds could cascade to lower elevations, burning everything in their path.

And yet another eruption of Popocatepetl Volcano, just southeast of Mexico City, sent smoke soaring more than 21/2 miles into the atmosphere.

Residents in the central Mexican state of Zacatecas were alarmed when the ground around their village began to smoke and crack. They first thought it was a volcano in the making, but scientists calmed their fears when they announced the smoke was probably caused by a spontaneous combustion of carbonized plants and animals beneath the surface that were deposited during prehistoric times.

Pet Evacuation

Abandoned dogs and cats in the British Caribbean territory of Montserrat, plagued for two years by a rumbling volcano, will get a new life in the U.S., thanks to an animal protection group. The Boston-based World Society for Protection of Animals will airlift 17 pets from the island's danger zone where owners were forced to leave them when they moved into shelters.

Lightning Link

British doctors announced that heavy thunderstorms can cause outbreaks of asthma. Katherine Venables, of the National Heart Institute in London, and Jonathan Higham, of Cambridge University, said a thunderstorm that hit the southeast of England in 1994 caused a fourfold increase in the number of asthma attacks. Thunderstorms are known to break up pollen grains into smaller pieces, which can cause more severe asthmatic reactions.

Sinkhole

A huge sinkhole opened up in the Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk, swallowing houses, schools and a nine-story apartment building. Most residents were able to take important belongings from their homes before the structures slid into the 1,500-foot abyss. A combination of flash floods, mudslides and an underground river is blamed for the disaster.

Earthquakes

A large area of Colombia, including the capital, Bogota, was rocked by two strong temblors centered in a mountainous area of the northern Santander department. While there were no reports of injuries, the temblors caused tall buildings in Bogota to shake violently.

Earth movements were also felt in central Chile, western Nicaragua, Indonesia's Irian Jaya Province, southern Germany and parts of Southern California.

Additional Sources: U.S. Climate Analysis Center, U.S. Earthquake Information Center and the World Meteorological Organization.

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