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Earthwatch / The Diary of a Planet

Tornado Swarm

April 16, 1998

Severe spring storms produced a swarm of tornadoes that tore through a wide swatch of the Southeastern U.S. where April is historically the deadliest month for twisters. More than a dozen tornadoes touched down in Georgia alone, but northern Alabama was the hardest-hit area. "It is very similar to what an atomic bomb would do if it was dropped in a neighborhood," said Sheriff Jim Woodward of Jefferson County, Ala. At least 47 people perished in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, and the death toll was expected to rise as rescue teams searched through the rubble.

Capital Wildfires

A record heat wave sweeping parts of of Latin America sparked a wildfire in the only remaining forest area within the confines of Mexico City. The Desierto de los Leones forest burst into flames as volunteer fire-fighters worked desperately to keep it under control. Locals call the wooded, environmental oasis "the lungs of the city" because its ancient treesare considered vital to cleansing the polluted air of the world's second-largest city.

Iranian Disater

Severe storms lashed parts of Iran for several days, triggering floods and mudslides that killed scores of people. More than 200 villages in Khuzestan and Lorestan provinces were hit by the inundations. The worst-hit areas was the remote southwestern village of Abkennareh where a mudslide killed all of he community's 60 residents. Rescue workers used heat-sensing equipment to look for survivors in the mud, but no signs of life were detected.


A series of strong earthquakes rocked the same area of central Italy that was wrecked by a two strong quakes last September. A magnitude 4.5 seismic slip badly damaged about 300 homes in the small Umbrian town of Gualdo Tadino. Officials said that no one was injured, but several buildings in the town center, including the church, were seriously damaged.

Earth movements were also felt in southwest Turkey, eastern Romania, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, southeast Australia and northern Japan.

King of Camellias

Chinese forestry officials have discovered a huge camellia tree estimated to be more than 600 years old in a remote part Yunnan Province. The tree is 30 feet tall and produces approximately 10,000 large red flowers each February. The official Xinhua news agency reported that the trunk measures more than two feet in diameter at the base and expands into a canopy of branches and limbs that cover 165 square feet at the top. Local residents regard it as the "king of camellias" because of its age and size.

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

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