When Mother Nature wields terror
Millions of people around the world are at a brink of a war they cannot win. In China and Russia, in Haiti and Maldives, there lurks an enemy ready to pounce with noxious gases, scorching firepower and water assault: Mother Nature. Lying on the wrong side of the map, these places are constantly battered by hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, as if Nature had the intent to wipe them out for good. Due to poverty, lack of choice or simple human determination, people continue to live side by side with these dangers. Beneath the peace and quiet that they enjoy in a single day is undercut by the fear and trembling that tomorrow may not be as lucky. Here are some of the places where Nature wields an unstoppable terror.
Hurricane capitals of the world
Even before Port-au-Prince was struck by a 7 magnitude earthquake on January 12, a city in Haiti, Gonaïves, is already a magnet for disaster. Haiti’s major island is smacked right into the Caribbean’s cyclone path. Add to that the city’s flood-prone coastal location on the Gonâve Gulf and massive hillside deforestation, and what would you get? A city wholly covered in a mud as thick as 12 feet when the rain comes. In 2004, the town lost 3,000 residents to Hurricane Jeanne and 500 lives to Hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike, which all attacked within the same month in 2008.
Gonaives, Haiti (Photo by Amanda Thompson)
In Oklahoma, there is another season to anticipate apart from the usual four: the twister season. Over a million people live along Oklahoma City and Tulsa’s Interstate 44 corridor, a.k.a., the Tornado Alley, which has been struck by over 120 tornados since 1890. In 1999, 70 tornados swept through the alley, destroying 1700 homes, damaging 6500 others, causing more than $1 billion in damages, and killing 40 people, even with modern prediction systems at hand.
The title “hurricane capital of the world,” however, goes to the Cayman Islands, a British territory that is swept by a hurricane every 2.16 years. Since 1871, 64 tornadoes have battered the low-lying Grand Cayman, the biggest of the three isles. In 2004, the Category 5 Hurricane Ivan submerged a quarter of the island in water, leaving 40,000 residents with no clean water or power for days.
Receiving lashes from the sea is also the norm in Maldives, one of the world’s youngest land masses, which many fear would also die young or too soon should rising sea levels continue even for just a centimeter per year for 12 years. Maldives’ highest peak is now only eight feet away from being level with the Indian Ocean, from which it got the 2004 tsunami that claimed 80 lives and left 100,000 homeless.
Maldives’ capital, Male (Photo by m o d e)
Another body of water, Lake Kivu, causes havoc in Congo and Rwanda, feared to flood the country with 60 cubic miles of carbon dioxide, along with 2.3 trillion cubic feet of methane gas. If such poisonous gases are unleashed, it could be the end of more than two million Africans who have found a home in Lake Kivu basin. In the ‘80s, over a hundred people have already died when volcanic activity unleashed the CO2 from Lake Monoun in Cameroon. No wonder, the UN dubs these bodies of water “Africa’s killer lakes.”
In Java, Indonesia, another of nature’s minions has earned the nickname “Fire Mountain” for continuously spewing smoke 10,000 feet into the sky. The volcano, Mt. Merapi, has erupted 60 times in 500 years, most recently, in 2006. In 2004, its scorching gas burned 60 people to death, while in 1930, the death toll was over a thousand. Even so, about 200,000 still reside near the volcano, a fraction of the 120 million Javans who tempt fate by living at the foot of 22 hotheads.
Mt. Merapi (Photo by paularps)
Mt. Merapi, nonetheless, seems no match to one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world: Mt. Vesuvius. This hothead is so legendary that its biggest victim was Pompeii which it buried under 20 meters of pumice and ash in 79 AD. Now, the buried city is being visited by over two million tourists a year as a World Heritage Site. The volcano is as active as ever, erupting every 20 years. Despite the risks, millions still prefer to have Vesuvius in the address.
Death is in the air
In Minqin County, Gansu Province, China, the hazard is neither a lake nor a volcano. The whole town itself is in a “creeping sandbox.” Since the ‘50s, the county is being sandwiched by the deserts Tengger and Badain Jaran. The dunes have eaten 100 square miles of the town’s area, swallowing the whole county at a rate of 10 meters annually. The town experiences 130 days of dust and wind a year, yet the population continues to grow, from 860,000 to more than two million in less than five decades.
Pompeii, Italy (Photo by Lyn Gateley)
Another town, Verkhoyansk in Russia, is the so-called “Cold Pole” for being the world’s coldest city. From September to March, its 2500 residents see only five hours of sunlight a day. From December to January, there’s no sunlight at all. Winter temperatures drop from -60 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. In the late 19th century, it was -90. The city, nevertheless, is a favorite place of exile, first among czars, then Soviets, and today, among tourists with a spine for dangerous living.