TIME natural disaster

See the Worst Natural Disasters of 2014

When it comes to acts of God, 2014 wasn’t a particularly active year. No powerful hurricane struck the U.S. like Sandy in 2012 or Katrina in 2005. There was no singlecatastrophic event like the Asian tsunami of 2004, which killed nearly 300,000 people, the Haiti earthquake of 2010, which killed over 200,000, or even the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland in 2010, which disrupted air travel for weeks.

But while there wasn’t a single iconic catastrophe, Mother Earth was still plenty busy in 2014. A volcano in Hawaii, a typhoon in the Philippines, wildfires in California and seven feet of snow in Buffalo—this year has witnessed its share of extreme weather and other natural disasters. The photos that follow are a reminder that when the Earth moves or the heavens strike, the results can be gorgeous to see—provided you’re not caught in the middle.

MORE: The most beautiful wildfire photos you’ll ever see

TIME Australia

Worst Storm in Decades Smashes Into Brisbane Causing Widespread Damage

Conditions in places were equivalent to a category 2 cyclone

Thousands of residents of Queensland, Australia, have been left without power after the worst storm in decades battered the state capital Brisbane on Thursday.

Golf-ball sized hailstones and winds of up to 90 mph tore roofs from buildings and brought down 642 power lines, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

“We had to run to get out of there, the speed of the hailstones were like bullets,” resident John Arthur told the ABC. “The place looked like a warzone.”

A huge cleanup operation is now underway with state-owned electricity supplier Energex working to restore power to 90,000 homes and emergency service crews clearing up debris left in the storm’s wake.

“[Saturday] will be a big day … lots of volunteers from SES and Rural Fire Service will be out … I estimate by end of tomorrow a large part of the recovery side will be done,” said Neil Gallant, acting deputy commissioner of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services.

Twelve people were injured during Thursday’s supercell storm but thankfully there were no fatalities.

“I’m astounded but so grateful that that is all that we’ve got given the amount of shrapnel flying around last night,” said Campbell Newman, the Premier of Queensland.

The state’s transport minister estimated the damage would cost more than $85 million to repair.

[ABC]

TIME hawaii

Watch Lava Burn Through Asphalt Outside Hawaii Town

The stream of lava continues to advance after devouring its first house on Monday

The lava flow threatening the Hawaii town of Pahoa continues to advance, devouring its first house on Monday and setting an asphalt road on fire Wednesday.

Hawaii Civil Defense officials are currently monitoring three breakouts from the main lava stream, but say that there are no immediate threats to residents, reports Hawaii News Now.

The lava flow emanates from a June 27 eruption at the Kilauea volcano, which has been active for 31 years.

TIME Disaster

Obama Signs Disaster Declaration to Aid Lava-Threatened Hawaiian Community

This Nov. 2, 2014 photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey shows a breakout from an inflated lobe of the June 27 lava flow near the town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii. U.S. Geological Survey—AP

Lava from the Kilauea volcano has been creeping toward the small town of Pahoa for four months

President Barack Obama signed a Disaster Declaration for Public Assistance on Monday to help a small Hawaiian town cope with the ongoing lava flow threatening its residents.

The declaration comes in response to Governor Neil Abercrombie’s Oct. 24 request for federal aid to boost local emergency protective measures, including repairs, re-establishment of alternate routes in and out of affected communities and the accommodation of around 900 schoolchildren that are expected to be displaced, reports local channel KITV4.

The smoldering lava has been creeping toward the small town of Pahoa since a new vent opened on the Kilauea volcano on June 27. Currently, the flow has stalled a few hundred feet from Pahoa Village Road.

“We can definitely see a bit of a glow, smell the smoke and the burning vegetation,” says Eric Johnson, a teacher at the Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science (HAAS), located one road down. “On occasions, I’ve heard loud booms, like shotgun blasts, when methane pockets in the ground explode.”

However, the village of about 900 has become known for its independent mindedness and some people in the community are critical of the government’s response.

“I’m not worried about the volcano, I’m worried about the government,” local resident Robert Petricci tells TIME. “The lava has been inching forward for 30 years, now the National Guard is here with humvees and flak vests like it’s a war zone. Everything’s a mess, with all the checkpoints, asking people who they’re riding with and where they’re going.”

Johnson’s students have meanwhile launched a social media campaign called Hope for HAAS, coming up with projects on how to facilitate living with a volcano, such as ideas for bridges over lava streams.

“I’m very impressed and proud of the kids, they’ve decided to make a bad situation into something positive,” Johnson says.

He points out that diverting lava flows is viewed in traditional Hawaiian culture as disrespecting the volcano goddess Pele. “The lava flow is very unpredictable, but Hawaiians have always lived with volcanoes. This project is creating hope, and plays a part in keeping the community who we are.”

TIME natural disaster

Hawaii Calls In National Guard as River of Lava Creeps Onward

Hawaii Kilauea Volcano Lava
The lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano burns vegetation as it approaches a property boundary near the village of Pahoa, Hawaii, on Oct. 28, 2014. US Geological Survey—Reuters

Intended to protect residents from looters

A delegation of 83 National Guard troops headed to Hawaii on Thursday to provide security for the Big Island community of Pahoa as a stream of lava from the Kilauea volcano continues to creep toward the small town.

Though the lava is traveling at less than 5 yd. per hour and has been approaching for the past several weeks, residents fear that looters will raid evacuated houses. Residents of about 50 houses in what officials are calling “a corridor of risk” have been told to be ready to leave, according to Reuters.

The Kilauea volcano has erupted persistently since 1983 from its Pu’u O’o vent. The latest flow of lava started on June 27.

[Reuters]

TIME natural disaster

9 Photos of Molten Lava Destruction From Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano

Lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii's Big Island flowed close enough to residents this week that officials warned of evacuations. See how the lava continues to creep closer to civilization and threaten the village of Pahoa

TIME natural disaster

Worldwide Earthquake Drill Comes 25 Years After Loma Prieta

Jan. 30, 1995, cover
The Jan. 30, 1995, cover of TIME Cover Credit: TOKYO SHIMBUN/REUTERS

This year's "Great ShakeOut" is Oct. 16; the Loma Prieta earthquake happened Oct. 17, 1989

On Thursday, Oct. 16, — at 10:16 a.m. — the annual Great ShakeOut earthquake drill will ask people around the world to take cover for a minute, practicing what they might do in the case of a real quake. It’s estimated that more than 25 million people will participate in this year’s event, which is organized by the Southern California Earthquake Center.

This coming Friday marks the 25th anniversary of a Californian earthquake that was far from a drill.

On Oct. 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake hit the San Francisco area. A 7.1 on the Richter scale, it was the worst quake in the region since 1906’s legendary tremors. According to TIME’s coverage of the aftermath, it was the “costliest natural disaster in U.S. history” at the time, in terms of dollars. It was estimated that the earthquake would cost the area about $10 billion; the vast majority of affected homes were not covered by earthquake insurance and parts of the I-880 freeway had to be demolished. Some speculated that the residual costs of the quake would stunt the Bay Area’s growth as a financial and business region. A year later, the actual cost was adjusted down to a mere $6 billion, but many people rendered homeless by the event were still without a place to live.

Within five years, however, Loma Prieta had been matched by the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California; a year later, another major quake in Kobe, Japan, brought the topic back into the news (as on the cover of TIME, above). Though the damage from such extensive earthquakes seems like something that a simple drill can’t affect, that’s not actually the case. As TIME put it in the Jan. 30, 1995, issue:

Much of the property damage from earthquakes, however, and not a small number of injuries, result not from cracking buildings but from heavy objects flying around and slamming into human flesh. Homeowners can be far more earthquake savvy, securing furniture, TV sets, bookcases and especially water heaters to the walls. Fires in the wake of an earthquake often do more damage than the quake itself, and many a fire has been caused by a top-heavy water heater keeling over, ripping a gas line out of a cellar wall and breaking it in the process. There is little evidence that people are taking these simple precautions, however. Few of those living around major faults really believe an earthquake is likely to strike until it actually does–and then, of course, it is too late.

The potential for a disastrous earthquake is no different today than it was back then — but, 25 years after Loma Prieta, millions of people are trying to do something before it’s too late.

TIME Natural Disasters

20 Million Set to Take Part in ‘Great ShakeOut’ Earthquake Drill

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate speaks during an event on earthquake preparedness Oct. 14, 2014 at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate speaks during an event on earthquake preparedness Oct. 14, 2014 at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

At 10:16 a.m on Thursday, millions of people around the world will practice the "drop, cover and hold on" moves

More than 20 million people around the world on Thursday are expected to take part in the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills, an annual event that promotes earthquake readiness.

At 10:16 a.m. on Oct. 16, participants will practice the government-recommended “drop, cover and hold on” protocol, which involves getting on the ground, taking cover under a table or desk and holding on until the earthquake is over.

With 10.32 million people registered, California has the highest participation of any U.S. state or nation taking part. ShakeOut events are also happening inNew Zealand, Japan, Southern Italy and parts of Canada as well. More than 25 million people in total are participating in a ShakeOut event of some kind during 2014, according to the Great ShakeOut organization.

ShakeOuts started in California, where earthquakes are common, but soon spread to other states, and the drills are usually coordinated with local emergency services.

TIME Nepal

More Than 20 Dead, Dozens Remain Missing as Blizzards Batter Himalayas

Nepal Avalanche
In this photo provided by the Nepalese army, soldiers carry an avalanche victim before he is airlifted in Thorong La pass area, in Nepal, on Oct. 15, 2014 AP

Four Canadians, three Israelis reportedly among the deceased, authorities still searching for some 85 missing persons

The effects of Cyclone Hudhud, which battered India’s east coast over the weekend, are being felt further north, as resultant blizzards in neighboring Nepal’s Annapurna region killed at least 20 people on Wednesday.

Officials said that nine locals, three Polish nationals, three Israelis and one Vietnamese were killed in the region’s Mustang district, according to the Indian Express. Four Canadians and an Indian also lost their lives in the neighboring district of Manang, and the search for nearly 85 others reported missing is being focused on the Thorang pass that connects the two areas.

Reuters reported that the Nepalis killed were a group of yak herders and that the search for hikers, which was called off Wednesday night local time owing to bad light and weather, resumed on Thursday morning. “One army helicopter has already left for the site and more helicopters will be pressed into service later,” said Mustang district Governor Baburam Bhandari.

This week’s disaster, which took place during Nepal’s peak trekking season, marks a bad year for the country’s tourism industry. Several Sherpa guides lost their lives in an avalanche at the base of Mount Everest in April, the worst accident in the history of the world’s tallest mountain. CNN reports that many Sherpas refused to go back up Everest after the incident, and as many as six trekking companies canceled their 2014 expeditions.

Kathmandu-based Adventure Mountain Explore Treks and Expedition are still heading out while exercising a great deal of caution and restraint in all situations.

Tika Regmi, who heads the company’s trekking and mountaineering department, says all his guides are advised to stay put during a natural disaster, or immediately descent if safe. “But some guides and Sherpas feel they need to listen to the customers’ wishes,” he tells TIME. According to Regmi, there are foreign trekkers who feel getting their money’s worth is most important and will press on despite adverse conditions. “But no amount of money is more valuable than their lives,” he says.

Three Adventure Mountain guides are currently at a guesthouse with their clients, and Regmi says it was their reading of the situation that saved their lives. Another company, whom he did not wish to name, pressed on and now has several groups missing. “It’s a natural disaster so no one can control,” he says. “We can only control our people and our guides.”

Regmi has already started receiving emails with requests for cancellations. He says the danger should pass within a week as the weather improves, but does worry about the long-term impact of these incidents.

“I’m sure it’s not a good message for people who are coming from all over the world,” he says.

TIME States

California Declares a State of Emergency as Wildfires Spread

"It's been an explosive couple of days"

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency late Wednesday in two northern counties as wildfires spread with explosive speed.

A fire in El Dorado County east of Sacramento more than doubled in size Wednesday night, from 44 square miles to 111 square miles, the Los Angeles Times reports, and was just 5% contained by Thursday morning. A separate fire in the northern Siskiyou County that started late Monday has damaged more than 150 structures, including a churches, and was about 65% contained.

“It’s been an explosive couple of days,” CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant told the Associated Press. Thousands of firefighters are helping to tackle the blazes, which threaten some 4,000 homes.

Federal aid has been apportioned to cover the cost of fighting the fire that began Monday, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency granted a request Wednesday for additional aid to combat the fire in El Dorado.

[Los Angeles Times]

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