Outside magazine, April 1997
Time tends to smear such examples of an increasingly dyspeptic Mother Earth into a blur of windblown CNN reporters, so let's look back. In T. S. Eliot's day April may have been the cruelest month, but these days it's got plenty of competition.
January 1: The year begins with a bang, as a 7.7-magnitude earthquake hits near Sulawesi in Indonesia, killing eight people.
February 3: Yunan, China, is struck by a 6.5-magnitude earthquake that leaves one million people homeless and 251 dead.
February 6: Vicious blizzards in a remote section of China's Sichuan Province kill 42 people and injure 40,000; 58,000 head of livestock also freeze to death.
February 13: More than a foot of rain pummels Rio de Janeiro and southern Brazil, killing 87.
February 17: An earthquake measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale rocks the New Guinea Trench, 45 miles north of the Indonesian island of Biak. Resulting 21-foot-high tsunamis sweep 3,000 homes and 107 people out to sea.
February 21: Freakishly warm weather boosts Dallas temps to 95 degrees; continued dry conditions spark wildfires throughout the Southwest, destroying 640,000 acres. Meanwhile, an earthquake strikes off Peru, loosing a 30-foot-high tsunami on the town of Chimbote and drowning ten fishermen.
March 2: The Ministry for Emergencies in Russia's North Osetia grandly announces plans to assemble a team of soothsayers and mediums to study the causes of these escalating natural disasters. All such magi will be accorded the coveted status of "experts" at the Ministry, says an official.
April 19: 42 tornadoes touch down in Illinois in one day, including one that consumes the home of the regional director of the National Weather Service.
April 30: The Mongolian government announces that drought-fed brush fires in the eastern part of the country have killed 23.
May 13: 600 are killed and 34,000 are injured when a tornado destroys 80 villages in north-central Bangladesh.
June 26: Astronauts aboard the space shuttle Columbia photograph smoke from rampant wildfires, ignited by lightning and fueled by the drought, that eventually burn 63,000 acres in Arizona and 45,000 acres in Utah.
July 6: A rain-swollen Yangtze River crests five feet above flood level in central China, killing more than 600 people and injuring 33,000. Also, Alan Weaver, of Arlington, Texas, begins marketing the Safe-N-Side, a box of half-inch-thick steel that can be crawled into during a tornado. The box weighs 1,300 pounds and sells for $1,985; Weaver
claims it can safely shield an inhabitant from a two-by-four flying 100 miles per hour.
August 7: Flash floods deluge a campground in the Spanish Pyrenees, killing 85 vacationers.
September 5: Hurricane Fran hits the Atlantic coast, plucking trees, snapping power lines, and gutting coastal homes along the Carolina shore. Fran kills 36 people and causes $5 billion in damage; at the height of the storm, Butch Segars of Wilmington, North Carolina, pulls out his 12-gauge shotgun, braves the 85-knot winds tearing through his
backyard, and fires one well-aimed round, knocking down a large limb that threatened to crash through his living room window. "I thought it was a pretty good shot," he later says.
September 2: A torrential rain washes out railways and bridges 36 miles north of Khartoum, Sudan. Fifteen die, with their bodies reportedly coming ashore miles downstream on the banks of the Nile.
October 18: Monsoons in southern India cause flooding that drowns more than 300 people.
November 6: The Indian coastal village of Balusutippa, on the Bay of Bengal, is erased by a cyclone; 2,000 die.
December 23: Russian officials announce that reindeer, unable to feed because pastures have been coated by an unusual ice storm, have starved to death on the Chukotskiy Peninsula.
January 1, 1997: Reacting to the extraordinary increase in weather catastrophes, the Insurance Information Institute changes its official definition of "catastrophe." To qualify under the new rules, an event must cause at least $25 million in damage, up from $5 million.
Illustrations by David Miller