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SCIENCE FILE / An exploration of issues and trends
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Earthwatch: A Diary of the Planet

August 17, 2000


Many of the 1,400 buildings in a sparsely populated region of Russia's Sakhalin Island, damaged by a magnitude 7.0 temblor on Aug. 5, will have to be demolished. Eight people were injured and some roads were damaged, dropping as much as 13 feet during the quake.

A magnitude 7.1 temblor centered near Mexico's southwest coast toppled bookshelves and sent goods flying off supermarket shelves in the city of Lazaro Cardenas. It also caused tall buildings in Mexico City to sway.

Earth movements were also felt in Japan's Izu island chain, Taiwan, New Zealand's North Island and Kyrgystan's Lake Issyk-Kul resort area.

Rain of Fish

An unusual weather occurrence caused small fish to rain down on Norfolk, England, covering the seaside resort with slithering 2-inch-long sprats, a member of the herring family. Weather experts said a powerful updraft, generated during a North Sea waterspout more than a mile offshore from the city of Great Yarmouth, was responsible. The small funnel cloud scooped up and swept away thousands of small fish swimming close to the surface. Storm winds transported the small sprats inland and deposited them as a silvery rain.

Indian Inundations

Continuing monsoon downpours worsened the disastrous flooding that has plagued many parts of the Indian subcontinent since late July. Flooding along the Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers and their tributaries claimed at least 121 lives and left more than 5.1 million people homeless in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. Swift currents have washed away roads and bridges, cutting off communications and transport to many districts. The inundations have destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of crops.

Wayward Penguins

At least 114 off-course penguins and one seal showed up on the tropical beaches of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, at least 3,000 miles from their usual winter home in the Strait of Magellan and the coasts of Patagonia, Argentina's southernmost province. Denise Monsares, a biologist with the foundation Rio Zoo, said the birds had probably been thrown off course by unusually cold ocean currents and strong winds during the past few weeks.

Paying Customer

An English magpie in Liverpool appears to be working hard to reverse the birds' notoriously bad reputation for thieving and hoarding by leaving cash for his daily breakfast at a Merseyside garden. Coins recently began appearing on the table where the large black and white bird promptly arrives each morning at 7:30 to eat bread the Waring family leaves for him. Kirsty Peck, a wildlife advisor at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said, "It is very unusual, because exchanging something is a human trait and not common in birds. I can only assume somebody has taught the bird to do this." To date, the paying magpie has left 1.70 pounds ($2.50) in change.

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