Dogs that did not bark

News of the Year

Issue: "News of the Year," Dec. 30, 2006

And what more shall we say? For time would fail us to tell of storms withheld, terror strikes averted, pandemics not unleashed, and innocents snatched from war and terror.

At the height of summer travel return flights, Britain shut down transatlantic travel, canceling 400 flights from London's Heathrow airport on Aug. 10, halting what British and U.S. intelligence uncovered: a plot to blow up airliners using liquid explosives the terrorists planned to carry onboard. British authorities arrested 21 engaged in the plot on Aug. 10. Six more were arrested in Pakistan, along with one of the planners, Rashid Rauf. While tourists shuffled to travel liquid- and gel-free-some arriving in the States with their carry-on articles reduced to a passport and wallet in a clear plastic bag-U.S. officials for the first time since 9/11 raised the airline terror threat level to red. Headaches and lost flights notwithstanding, the vigilance meant U.S. travelers passed another year since 9/11 without air travel terror.

But no man controls the weather, and weather forecasters may remember the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season as just as remarkable as the previous year's. While the 2005 season accounted for a record 28 total storms (seven of which were considered major) that caused more than $120 billion in damages and claimed nearly 2,300 lives, the 2006 cycle ended with a welcome silence: It saw only nine storms and, while two were major, they were nothing like the cataclysmic Katrina and Rita.

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The Pacific was not so kindly neglected. Four typhoons struck the Philippines, leaving over 1,400 dead and 190,000 homeless. A 7.7 magnitude earthquake on Java July 17 caused a 10-foot tsunami, and a Nov. 15 earthquake north of Japan sent a damaging surge tide as far as Crescent City, Calif., where docks and boats were damaged.

Despite pandemic warnings, bird flu also did not spread far afield from its Asian stronghold. For the year there were 111 cases of bird flu worldwide, and 76 bird flu-related deaths. Of those, 45 occurred in Indonesia. On Nov. 28, South Korea confirmed a second outbreak of a strain of avian influenza (pictured); then on Dec. 11, a third case was discovered; the three infected farms lie on a path for migratory birds that head south from Russia, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan.

It's not all a war zone. In November the Kurdish Evangelical Church in the northern Iraq town of Irbil held its first service. Since only one floor of the building is complete, churchgoers met in the basement below what will one day be an auditorium. Pastor Majeed Rasheed Mohammad noted that the church received a building permit in 2004 from the local Muslim government but receives no other public funding, in contrast to many Iraqi mosques. "We believe in the Lord and believe He will protect and help us in building the church and in managing our matters," Mohammad said. Local government officials, who are Muslim, approve the church's opening, said officer Kamal Karkouli, noting that Iraq's constitution "guarantees religious freedom." He told a Jordanian daily, "We cannot force a citizen to be a Christian, or a Muslim, or to choose any other religion; we try to apply democracy."


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