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SCIENCE FILE / An exploration of issues and trends
affecting science, medicine and the environment

Earthwatch: A Diary of the Planet

October 26, 2000

Ebola Outbreak

At least 60 people in northern Uganda have died in the country's first-known outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, which often kills its victims within 24 hours. Three of the victims were nurses who contracted the disease while treating patients. Anyone in the region suspected of being infected is being quarantined, even those exhibiting flu-like symptoms -- the first signs of exposure. Ninety percent of those infected with the hemorrhagic fever die an extremely painful death, according to the World Health Organization.

Mountain Disasters

Thousands of rescue workers searched through mud and debris for survivors of devastating Alpine flooding and mudslides that ravaged parts of Switzerland and northern Italy. At least 31 people died in the disaster, and extensive damage was done to the region's rail and road networks. Floods spreading southward from Switzerland forced tens of thousands of people from their homes in the north of Italy. A rapidly melting glacier on the slopes of an inactive volcano in Ecuador broke loose, causing a mountainside lagoon to burst its banks and triggering a mudslide that killed at least 10 people.

Gulf Shark Kill

Hundreds of dead sharks began washing up along the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico, where biologists are mystified as to the cause of their deaths. Officials estimate that at least 200 to 300 blacktip reef and Atlantic sharpnose sharks have been observed. Traces of blood found on the nostrils and gills of some of the sharks suggest that an infection might be to blame. Other ecologists have theorized that a lack of oxygen in shallow water could be the cause.

Hippo Attacks

Marauding hippopotamuses terrorized farmers and boatmen in Niger, destroying fishing boats and devastating rice fields. At least two fishermen were injured by the charging beasts. The giant mammals have recently appeared along the Niger River in unprecedented numbers. Many locals believe that the animals have moved from neighboring Mali, where the drive to remove them has been successful. Although they are herbivores, the hippos have also been attacking cattle along the banks of the river. Officials have ordered the killing of aggressive hippos. Abdoulaye Saidou Maiga, an official in the Tillaberry region, said, "There are limits. We cannot put humans in danger under the pretext of wanting to protect the animals."


A magnitude 5.2 earthquake near the central Indian city of Jabalpu sent panicked residents rushing into the streets before dawn on Oct. 17. A number of buildings developed cracks as a result of the shaking. Earth movements were also felt in Japan, Taiwan, New Zealand's North Island, southern Mexico and northern Ecuador.

Tropical Cyclones

At least 53,000 people in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh were evacuated by military troops as cyclone 01B approached from across the western Bay of Bengal. Hurricane Michael passed over the open waters of the Atlantic to the northwest of Bermuda.

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