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Biggest Natural Disasters of 2016:
Year of the Earthquake
by Kacey Deamer, Staff Writer
The Year's Biggest Natural Disasters
This year was one for the record books, from political election results
that took the world by storm to actual storms that shook spots across
the globe. The year began with winter storm Jonas, also known as "The
Storm of the Century," which brought a record amount of snowfall to the
Northeast. But 2016 may well be known as the year of the earthquake, as
areas around the world trembled from seismic activity. Here are some of
the headline-grabbing natural disasters that occurred this year.
Winter Storm Jonas
The massive winter storm left the northeast U.S. covered in such
extensive snowfall that the white precipitation was clearly visible from
space. Over the course of one weekend (Jan. 23-24), Jonas broke records
for snowfall in places along the East Coast. Airports near Baltimore
recorded about 29 inches (74 centimeters) of snow; approximately 28
inches (71 cm) of snow fell in Newark, New Jersey, and Philadelphia
recorded 22 inches (55 cm) of snow, according to the Weather Channel.
The town of Glengary, West Virginia, received the highest snow total: a
whopping 42 inches (107 cm). At least 49 people died as a result of the
mammoth snowstorm, due to car accidents, hypothermia, carbon monoxide
poisoning or overexertion from shoveling snow.
On Feb. 6, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit 17 miles (28 kilometers)
northeast of Pingtung City in southern Taiwan. It's relatively shallow
depth (14 miles, or 23 km, below the surface) caused widespread damage,
toppling buildings in the city of Tainan. The quake caused an estimated
117 deaths and left hundreds more injured, according to the Tainan City
government. Most of the fatalities and injuries came from the collapse
of the Wei-Guan Golden Dragon high-rise tower, a residential building in
Tainan, according to authorities.
A series of wildfires blazed across California this year, burning more
than half a million acres. According to the California Department of
Forestry and Fire Protection, 6,938 fires had burned 565,070 acres
(229,000 hectares) as of Dec. 11. The Blue Cut wildfire (shown here),
for instance, burned through more than 37,000 acres (more than 12,000
hectares) in Southern California this summer and through the fall,
according to the Los Angeles Times. The state's lingering drought has
killed more than 100 million trees, according to the U.S. Forest
Service's latest aerial survey, leaving a "fuel buildup" that led to
this season's longer, hotter fire season. The fires this year killed
seven people, including one firefighter, and damages are still being
Tremendous downpours inundated Louisiana in August, when some regions
received more than 20 inches (50.8 cm) of rain over a 72-hour span (from
Aug. 12‑14). At least six rivers hit record levels during the rainfall,
the most extreme of which was along the Amite River, which exceeded its
previous height record by more than 6 feet (1.8 meters). The National
Weather Service described the heavy rain event as an "inland sheared
tropical depression," where a deadly combination of tropical moisture
and low pressure fueled immense rainfall. Thirteen people lost their
lives, and an estimated 30,000 people were forced from their homes.
Central Italy was rattled this year by three strong earthquakes in just
three months. A 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck Aug. 24 about 6.5 miles
(10.5 kilometers) southeast of Norcia, Italy. The initial quake was
followed by several aftershocks, including a 5.5-magnitude earthquake
that struck 2.5 miles (4 km) northeast of Norcia the same day. The
temblors rocked Central Italy, killing hundreds of people as
medieval-era stone buildings collapsed. The "tectonically and
geologically complex" region sits atop the Tyrrhenian basin, which is
beneath the Mediterranean Sea where the earth is spreading apart. It was
struck again in October when two strong earthquakes just 2 hours apart
rattled the center of the country. A 5.5-magnitude quake struck about 6
miles (9 km) southeast of Norcia, followed two hours later by a larger,
magnitude-6.1 quake about 11 miles (18 km) from the town and just 1.6
miles (2 km) from the smaller town of Visso.
Hurricane Matthew was a powerhouse of a storm that circulated through
the Atlantic Ocean in October. The strongest storm seen in the Atlantic
since Hurricane Felix in 2007, Matthew briefly reached Category 5
hurricane status — with winds exceeding 157 mph (252 km/h). The storm
dropped to Category 4 strength, though winds were still incredibly
strong at 140 mph (225 km/h). The high-speed winds, storm surges and
"life-threatening rain" made Matthew a destructive and deadly disaster.
Over 1,600 estimated deaths were attributed to the hurricane, and
damages are estimated in excess of $10.5 billion.
New Zealand Earthquake and Tsunami
A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck New Zealand on Nov. 14.
Though the quake's epicenter was northeast of Christchurch, the massive
temblor was felt as far away as New Zealand's capital of Wellington,
located 120 miles (200 km) away, on the North Island. About 2 hours
after the initial quake, tsunami waves over 7 feet (2 meters) tall hit
the coast. The island nation also continued to shake from hundreds of
aftershocks well after the main temblor, including a 6.3-magnitude
quake. Two deaths were reported, and much of the rural landscape was
devastated from the powerful quake. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key
estimated that reconstruction would take months and cost billions of
dollars. The magnitude-7.8 quake also transformed the underlying faults
in the region, rupturing six major faults, according to new maps by the
geoscience consultancy group GNS Science in New Zealand.
A powerful earthquake shook northern Japan on Nov. 21, generating a
small tsunami that hit the same.
Areas around Gatlinburg, Tennessee, were consumed by wildfires on Nov.
28, closing the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and forcing thousands
to flee their homes. The inferno spread rapidly through the area's
drought-stricken forest, pushed by gusty winds. According to
meteorologists, the gusty winds blowing dry leaves spread the blaze,
also knocking over power lines and sparking new fires. The deadly
combination allowed the fires to move quickly, wreaking havoc on the
area. The historic Gatlinburg fires left 14 dead, 134 injured and
scorched more than 1,600 structures. [a href="http://www.livescience.com/57015-how-tennessee-wildfire-spread-so-fast.html>Read
more about Gatlinburg's wildfires]
During the first week of March, a 7.8-magnitude temblor struck about 500
miles (800 km) southwest of Sumatra, an island in western Indonesia.
Though the quake was strong, it occurred far enough away from the
islands to cause significant damage. On Dec. 7, another earthquake shook
the island nation. The shallow 6.5-magnitude quake's epicenter was 12
miles (19 km) southeast of Indonesia's Aceh province, according to the
United States Geological Survey (USGS). It damaged hundreds of
structures in the district of Pidie Jaya in Aceh, CNN reported. At least
100 people were killed and 136 seriously injured, according to
Indonesia's Disaster Management and Mitigation Agency. Indonesia was
again hit by an earthquake on Dec. 21, when a 6.7-magnitude temblor
struck the Banda Sea off Indonesia and East Timor, the USGS reported.
The quake was felt as far away as Darwin, the capital of the Northern
Territory of Australia. According to news reports, residents said the
quake lasted several minutes. The USGS alert listed the quake as having
moderate shaking and a low likelihood of casualties and damage. Original
article on Live Science.