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natural disasters
May 26, 2019

A likely tornado struck in El Reno, Oklahoma, a city of 16,700 residents west of Oklahoma City, on Saturday night, causing significant damage to the area.

While no details were immediately made available, the police department in nearby Union City announced in a Facebook post that "serious injuries and fatalities" occurred and El Reno's mayor and the county's emergency manager confirmed that there were two deaths. An unknown number of people are reportedly missing. The tornado hit a motel, a mobile home park, and other buildings.

"You could hear the roar and everything when it came through," Richard Griffin, a resident of the mobile home park, said. The tornado followed a series of severe weather events in the Southern Plains in the last week; 104 tornadoes were reported across eight states between Monday and Thursday.

El Reno also suffered damage and fatalities during a tornado outbreak in 2013. Tim O'Donnell

April 8, 2019

The dangers of volcanoes don't end at hot magma and falling rocks — you also have to worry about the plumes of ash, smoke, and toxic gases that are just as deadly, but reach a lot farther. Thanks to new research, scientists might be able to better understand how these volcanic clouds work, and how we can minimize their damage.

Clouds of volcanic debris, known as "pyroclastic density currents," have long been a mystery because they move much faster than they should be able to, National Geographic explained. They stick to ground level and seem to have an unnatural momentum that allows them to race downhill, on level surfaces, and even uphill. But a new study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience revealed that volcanic gases are able to spread at abnormal speeds thanks to a cushion of air that reduces the amount of friction they encounter in their path.

Using volcanic debris left behind by a volcanic eruption 2,000 years ago in New Zealand, researchers studied the way the pyroclastic flow moved, and were able to model the movement on computers. This data led them to the realization that air trapped between the toxic particles in the pyroclastic current drifted to the bottom of the clouds, buffering the current from any rough surfaces it might pass over. It's similar to the way an air hockey table works: The puck gains speed because of the layer of air that lifts it from the table's surface.

Although the data needs to be refined, it can be a tool in predicting where future eruptions' volcanic gases and ash might end up. That information, in turn, can be used to save the lives of the 800 million people who live within 60 miles of active volcanoes around the world.

Read more about this study at National Geographic. Shivani Ishwar

March 8, 2019

President Trump on Friday will head to Alabama, where a powerful tornado killed 23 people earlier this week. Seven of the victims, in Lee County, were from the same family.

"It's been a tragic situation," Trump said at the White House. "But a lot of good work is being done." The tornado, with winds estimated at up to 170 mph, tore through the rural countryside for nearly a mile on Sunday. Many residents in the area had only about 8 minutes of warning before it struck.

"FEMA has been told directly by me to give the A Plus treatment to the Great State of Alabama and the wonderful people who have been so devastated by the Tornadoes," Trump tweeted Monday. After his visit with victims' relatives, Trump is heading to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for a weekend fundraiser. Peter Weber

August 18, 2018

Unusually catastrophic monsoon rains continued Saturday in the southern Indian state of Kerala, where more than 300,000 people have now evacuated their homes to escape rising floodwaters. Another 10,000 are thought to be trapped on their roofs awaiting rescue.

Severe flooding has lasted for more than a week, and at least 324 people have died in connection to the floods. More rain is expected at least through Monday, hindering already fraught rescue efforts. Nevertheless, 82,000 rescues were completed on Friday alone.

"It's a four-story house, but water started pouring in fast until it reached the second floor and stayed that way for two days," said one woman named Shrinni, who lives with her family in a town called Ranni. "My relatives shifted to the top floor with all the stuff they immediately needed. An airlift came, but as my 85-year-old grandmother had never taken a flight in her life and she was afraid to go. So the whole family stayed back. On Friday, rescuers came with motor boats and shifted them to a safe place." Bonnie Kristian

June 1, 2018

Hawaiian authorities have ordered a mandatory evacuation for residents of some neighborhoods threatened by ongoing and still-expanding lava flows from the Kilauea volcano, and those who refuse to evacuate by noon local time on Friday will be subject to arrest. After the deadline, the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency will not conduct rescue missions for those in evacuation areas.

The volcano has been active for nearly a month, and "vigorous lava eruptions" continue daily. The 24 fissures have shot "persistent fountains" of lava as high as 260 feet in the air, and the lava has blanketed an area of five and half square miles and counting. However, geologists estimate a mere 2 percent of the molten lava in the Kilauea crater has moved downhill so far. Bonnie Kristian

May 13, 2018

The Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii remained active over the weekend, opening a 16th fissure about a mile away from most of its lava flow activity in the Leilani Estates neighborhood. About 2,000 people have now been evacuated and more than two dozen homes destroyed by encroaching lava, which in some places has piled as high as a four-story building.

The ongoing activity has geologists concerned about possible volcanic or seismic activity affecting other locations in the Ring of Fire, like the United States' Pacific coast, but experts say another eruption is not imminent. Bonnie Kristian

May 12, 2018

President Trump on Friday declared a major disaster in Hawaii as continued lava flow from the Big Island's Kilauea volcano since May 3 has destroyed 36 structures, covered 117 acres, and forced the evacuation of 1,700 people.

Some 15 volcanic vents have opened up in and near the Leilani Estates neighborhood, a subdivision close to the volcano, and "additional outbreaks of lava are likely," said the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. More "energetic ash emissions" and "ballistic projectiles" of various sizes of rocks are expected as well.

"Scientists said that as the surface of the lava pool at the volcano's summit recedes, it could cause rocks from the crater to fall into the opening where the lava levels have dropped," reports The New York Times. "The hot rocks would then interact with groundwater, causing steam pressure to build up and eventually releasing a larger explosion at the summit." Boulders weighing up to 12 tons could be tossed up to half a mile from the volcano's summit. Bonnie Kristian

May 5, 2018

Thursday's eruption of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii was followed by a 6.9-magnitude earthquake in the area Friday, with at least six active fissures in affected areas on the Big Island's eastern tip. Three buildings, including one home, have been destroyed so far, and about 1,800 people have been evacuated from neighborhoods near the volcano. About 14,000 people lost power, and emissions of dangerous, sulfurous gas made it unsafe for utility employees to work in some areas.

Friday's quake was the largest on the island since 1975, and tremors continued Saturday. "There are still plumes going out. There's a couple cracks that's close by that still have steam coming out," said Big Island resident Ikaika Marzo. "There's a lot of glow, a lot of fires." Bonnie Kristian

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