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Earthwatch: A Diary of the Planet

El Nino's Wrath

March 19, 1998

Torrential rains triggered by El Nino over the Deep South produced severe flooding in Alabama that killed at least one person. Nearly 2,000 residents of Elba were forced from their homes when floodwaters rose to 6 feet deep in the downtown area. Ongoing storms threatened to cause similar inundations in Georgia late in the week.

Related bat weather in Louisiana produced nearly constant lightning and hailstones more than half a foot in diameter. Near Rogers, about 180 miles northwest of New Orleans, hail punched a 6-inch hole in a porch roof and caused extensive damage to cars and other exposed objects.

Monarch Warning

Mexico's leading environmental group announced Monday that illegal logging and El Nino are decimating the population of the country's monarch butterflies. The Group of 100 said in an open letter that forest fires and cold weather caused by El Nino have carpeted some Mexican forest with dead butterflies up to 12 inches deep. The group asked President Ernesto Zedillo to declare the San Andreas reserve in western Mexico--a critical monarch wintering ground--a federally protected area in order to stop the destruction caused by logging.

Finally Winter

A powerful blizzard packing high winds and blinding snow blasted through parts of the American Midwest, stranding motorists, cutting power to thousands of people and bringing air transportation to a halt. The sudden outbreak of harsh weather caught many residents unprepared after a relatively mild and snowless winter.

Fishing Recovery

Peru's National Fishing Society announced that the country's key fishing industry should start to recover in May as anchovies return to the coastal waters. El Nino's warm currents drove the fish to cooler waters in search of food last year, disrupting the marine food chain along an extensive stretch of South America's Pacific coast. Economic figures just released show that Peru's fishing industry suffered a 78% drop in production during the peak season, which ended in January.

Earthquakes

The second powerful quake to strike Indonesia's Irian Jaya province in a little more than a week sent residents of the provincial capital of Jayapura scrambling into the streets. Earth movements were also felt in North Sumatra, Taiwan, eastern Japan, the eastern Mediterranean, western Scotland, northern Colombia and parts of Southern California.

Island Eruption

Lava began flowing down the flanks of the largest volcano on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion on March 9. The eruption of Piton de la Fournaise occurred in an uninhabited area of the French territory, and did not threaten any of the island's population. An eruption of the mountain in 1986 terrified some residents, but the lava cooled into bizarre formations that have become a popular tourist attraction.

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