Earth ChangesS

Cloud Lightning

Baby a sign of hope in devastated South

The muddy field was littered with debris after a wave of violent storms: Living room couches, strollers, children's toys. So when two rescuers came upon a baby, they thought he was a doll. Then he moved. "We grabbed hold of his neck (to take a pulse) and he took a breath of air and started crying," said David Harmon, a firefighter from a nearby county who was combing the field for tornado victims.

©Associated Press
Kyson Stowell, 11 months, is shown in a hospital in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008. Kyson was found in a field, about a hundred yards away from a house, after a severe storm went through Castalian Springs, Tenn., Tuesday, Feb. 5. His mother, Kerri Stowell, was killed.


Baboon Dads Have Surprising Influence On Daughters' Fitness

Polygamous baboon fathers get more grandchildren if they spend a little time with their children during their juvenile years, according to research directed by scientists at Duke and Princeton universities.

The findings, in well-studied social groupings of yellow baboons living at the foot of Africa's Mt. Kilimanjaro, were unexpected in "multi-male" animal societies where both genders have multiple partners and mature males were thought to focus their energies almost solely on mating.

©Susan Alberts
Baboon family mingles at Kenyan study site.

Heart - Black

Japanese whaling pictures 'sick': Australian minister

Photographs of a mother whale and her calf being dragged on board a Japanese ship after being harpooned in Antarctic waters have been described as sickening by Australia's environment minister.

The pictures, plastered over front pages and shown on television here Thursday, were taken from an Australian customs vessel tracking the whalers to gather evidence for possible legal action to stop the annual slaughter.

"I guess when I saw the photos I just felt a bit of a sick feeling as well as a sense of sadness," Environment Minister Peter Garrett told Nine Network television.

"It's very disappointing. It's distressing when you think that it can take up to 15 minutes after a harpoon actually hits a whale for the whale to die.


Ecuador volcano blows its top, forces 1,450 from homes

Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano exploded into action Wednesday, spewing red-hot lava, rocks and a 10-kilometer (six-mile) high plume of ash that forced 1,450 people from their homes, officials said.

"The eruption is going on right now and continues to generate pyroclastic flows" of red-hot gas, ash and rocks down the volcano's western flank, Geophysical Institute director Hugo Yepez told reporters.

The 5,029-meter (16,500-foot) mountain, 135 kilometers (84 miles) south of the capital Quito, began erupting with a series of loud explosions in the pre-dawn hours, waking more than 20,000 people living in 10 towns and villages in its surroundings.

Cloud Lightning

Update 2! Tornadoes rip through South, killing 55

Lafayette, Tenn. - Residents in five Southern states tried to salvage what they could Wednesday from homes reduced to piles of debris, a day after the deadliest cluster of tornadoes in nearly a decade tore through the region, snapping trees and crumpling homes. At least 55 people were dead.

Rescue crews, some with the help of the National Guard, went door-to-door looking for more victims. Dozens of twisters were reported as the storms swept through Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama.

Seavia Dixon, whose Atkins, Ark., home was shattered, stood Wednesday morning in her yard, holding muddy baby pictures of her son, who is now a 20-year-old soldier in Iraq. Only a concrete slab was left from the home.

The family's brand new white pickup truck was upside-down, about 150 yards from where it was parked before the storm. Another pickup truck the family owned sat crumpled about 50 feet from the slab.

"You know, it's just material things," Dixon said, her voice breaking. "We can replace them. We were just lucky to survive."

In many places, the storms struck as Super Tuesday primaries were ending. As the extent of the damage quickly became clear, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee paused in their victory speeches to remember the victims.

Twenty-six people were killed in Tennessee, 13 killed in Arkansas, seven killed in Kentucky and four killed in Alabama, emergency officials said. Among the victims were Arkansas parents who died with their 11-year-old daughter in Atkins when they stayed behind to calm their horses. The community, one of the hardest hit, is a town of about 3,000 approximately 60 miles northwest of Little Rock.

Ray Story tried to get his 70-year-old brother, Bill Clark, to a hospital after the storms leveled his mobile home in Macon County, about 60 miles northeast of Nashville. Clark died as Story and his wife tried to navigate debris-strewn roads in their pickup truck, they said.

"He never had a chance," Story's wife, Nova, said. "I looked him right in the eye and he died right there in front of me."

President Bush said he called the governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee and assured them the administration was ready to help and to deal with any emergency requests.

"Loss of life, loss of property - prayers can help and so can the government," Bush said. "I do want the people in those states to know the American people are standing with them."

The system moved eastward to Alabama Wednesday, bringing heavy rain and gusty wind, causing several injuries in counties northwest of Birmingham. The National Weather Service posted tornado watches for parts of southern Alabama, the Florida Panhandle and western Georgia, but the storms appeared to weaken as they approached the coast. Weather service experts also investigated damage in Indiana to see if it was caused by tornadoes.

An apparent tornado damaged eight homes in Walker County, Ala., and a pregnant woman suffered a broken arm when a trailer home was tossed by the wind, said county emergency management director Johnny Burnette.

"I was there before daylight and it looked like a war zone," he said.

Northeast of Nashville, a spectacular fire erupted at a natural gas pumping station. The station took a direct hit from the storm, but no deaths connected to the fire were reported.

About 200 yards from the edge of the plant, Bonnie and Frank Brawner picked through the rubble of their home for photographs and other personal items. The storm sheared off the second story of the home.

"We had a beautiful neighborhood, now it's hell," said Bonnie Brawner, 80.

More than 20 students were stuck behind wreckage and jammed doors, mostly for short periods, in battered dormitories at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. Tornadoes had hit the campus in the past, and students knew the drill when they heard sirens, said Union University President David S. Dockery.

"When the sirens went off the entire process went into place quickly," Dockery said. Students "were ushered into rooms, into the bathrooms, interior spaces."

He said about 50 students were taken to a hospital and nine stayed through the night. But all would be fine, he said. The students "demonstrated who they are and I'm so proud of them."

In Memphis, high wind collapsed the roof of a Sears store at a mall. Debris that included bricks and air conditioning units was scattered on the parking lot, where about two dozen vehicles were damaged.

A few people north of the mall took shelter under a bridge and were washed away in the Wolf River, but they were pulled out with only scrapes, said Steve Cole of the Memphis Police Department.

Winter tornadoes are not uncommon. The peak tornado season is late winter through midsummer, but the storms can happen at any time of the year with the right conditions.

But this batch was the nation's worst in a 24-hour period since May 3, 1999, when some 50 people died in Oklahoma and Kansas. The death toll ranks among the top 15 from tornado outbreaks since 1950, said Greg Carbin, the warning coordination meteorologist at the center in Norman, Okla., just south of Oklahoma City.

The tornadoes could be due to La Nina, the cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean that can cause changes in weather patterns around the world. It is the opposite of the better-known El Nino, a periodic warming of the same region.

Recent studies have found an increase in tornadoes in parts of the southern U.S. during the winter during a La Nina. On Jan. 8, tornadoes were reported in Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Two died in the Missouri storms.

In this round of storms, there were 67 eyewitness accounts of tornadoes but the number of twisters likely won't be that high because some probably saw the same funnel cloud, said Carbin. He said a reasonable guess is that 30 to 40 tornadoes touched down.

Most communities had ample warning that the storms were coming - forecasts had warned for days severe weather was possible. But in at least one rural community, there was no siren to alert residents the severe weather had arrived.

In Kentucky's Allen County, officials have requested funding for a siren at the fire station, but don't have one yet. Even if they did, officials wondered if it would have helped.

"It came in quick," Judge-Executive Bobby Young said. "Probably, warning devices wouldn't have helped any."

Earlier story:

Atkins, Arkansas - Authorities went door-to-door trying to find additional victims of tornadoes that killed at least 26 people, ripped the roof off a shopping mall and blew apart warehouses as they tore across four states.

The dead included 12 people in Tennessee, 11 in Arkansas, and a mother and father who died in Kentucky with their adult daughter. Those killed in Arkansas included another set of parents, who died with their 11-year-old in Atkins, about 60 miles northwest of Little Rock.

Cloud Lightning

US: Tornadoes Tear Across South, Killing 3

Atkins, Ark. - Tornadoes tore across Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi on Tuesday, killing at least three people and injuring several others in a rare midwinter outbreak of violent weather.

Bizarro Earth

The world's rubbish dump: a garbage pit that stretches from Hawaii to Japan

©The Independent

A "plastic soup" of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean is growing at an alarming rate and now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States, scientists have said.

Arrow Up

Blizzards and frost grip Afghanistan as death toll rises

A total of 37 people, including 20 children, have frozen to death in east Afghanistan's Ghazni province in the past 24 hours, the provincial governor said on Tuesday.

A number of people died after their vehicles were blocked by snowdrifts, Faizullah Faizan said.

Blizzards and freezing weather across the whole of Afghanistan have so far killed over 300 people in recent weeks. The death toll is expected to continue to rise.


Northern Chile, southern Peru hit by 6.3 quake

SANTIAGO - An earthquake measuring 6.3 on the moment magnitude scale rocked northern Chile and parts of southern Peru early Monday, the US Geological Survey said, as Chilean officials added there were no reports of casualties or damage.

"It was a medium intensity earthquake," the head of Chile's national emergency bureau, Carmen Fernandez, told a Santiago radio station.

Light Saber

Judge: Navy Not Exempt From Sonar Ruling

Los Angeles - The Navy must follow environmental laws placing strict limits on sonar training that opponents argue harms whales, despite President Bush's decision to exempt it, a federal judge ruled Monday.