Hurricane Dean slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula on Aug. 21 as the third most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in recorded history. The massive Category 5 hurricane left at least 15,000 people homeless and destroyed an estimated 60,000 acres of crops on the eastern end of the peninsula. Authorities initially reported no casualties, but warned they weren't yet sure how rural jungle communities fared.
Authorities in Jamaica said Dean killed at least 20 people when it battered the Caribbean region east of the Yucatan as a Category 4 hurricane one day earlier. The hurricane weakened as it moved west, sparing a storm-weary Texas from a direct hit.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry had prepared for the worst: State officials set up shelters, mobilized the National Guard, shipped some 80,000 barrels of gasoline to gas stations in the Rio Grande Valley, and asked President Bush for a preemptive disaster declaration.
The state was still reeling from heavy rains and flooding that killed at least six and heavily damaged hundreds of homes. By mid-August, Houston had received some 40 inches of rain, nearly a foot more than the average. The torrential rains moved north, causing flooding in the Midwest that displaced more than 1,000 people from their homes.
The flooding killed at least 22 people across the region, and residents in Ohio grappled with the worst flooding in the state in nearly a century. "This is a major, major disaster," Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said. "We'll do everything we can to help these people get back on their feet, but this is going to take some time."
Meanwhile, residents in the Southeast endured some of the driest conditions they had seen in 50 years. Officials at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb., gave parts of northern Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia a "D4" rating: the highest possible level of drought intensity.
Government officials in Alabama classified some 88 percent of the state's corn crop as very poor due to dry conditions. They gave the same rating to 85 percent of the state's soybeans, and 74 percent of its cotton.
Scorching temperatures accompanied the scorching drought: An August heat wave shattered high-temperature records in more than 20 cities in the region. Atlanta tied its all-time high record of 108 degrees-a temperature the city hasn't seen since 1873. High humidity made the high temperatures feel even hotter. The heat index in Jackson, Miss., reached 111 degrees, while temperatures in Charleston, S.C., felt like 117 degrees.
But Americans weren't the only ones enduring the effects of extreme weather. In China, torrential rains nearly 400 miles south of Beijing flooded two coal mines when a levee burst near the Wen River. At least 181 miners were trapped, and authorities held out little hope of rescuing them. Some 580 miners at the Huayuan mine escaped the rising water.
Safety experts have criticized dangerous working conditions in China's coal mines for years, and families of the missing blamed mine bosses for ignoring flood warnings before the disaster. The state-controlled media devoted little space or time to the tragedy, and family members told the Associated Press that local security officials tried to prevent them from speaking to the press. Liu Binyin, whose 32-year-old son is missing, said she wasn't afraid to speak out: "I don't care if he is fired or laid off, I just want my son back alive." That's a sentiment weather victims the world over can endorse.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spent the bulk of her 42-minute speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention playing to the Kansas City crowd with feel-good talk of a new GI Bill of Rights. But when the Democratic front-runner turned to Iraq, her tone sharpened: "It's unacceptable for our troops to be caught in a crossfire of a sectarian civil war while the Iraqi government is on vacation."
Clinton is not alone in her criticism of 275 Iraqi lawmakers' month-long recess taken while 160,000 U.S. troops slog through a blistering summer to bring stability to the war-torn country. But her words upped the pressure on embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, under fire for failing to forge a political compromise between two rival Islamic factions. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) called for the prime minister's ouster upon his return from a trip to Baghdad last week.
But the comments came as al-Maliki, along with leaders from all Iraq's ethnic-religious factions, summited in Iraq on security issues. And the statements drew fire from critics who questioned why key Democrats are meddling in a conflict they want to exit.
President Bush addressed the VFW convention Aug. 22 after presidential hopefuls Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain, and Fred Thompson, and said the recent surge of troops is "gaining momentum" and "changing the dynamic." McCain denounced war as "wretched beyond all description," but added, "As long as there is a prospect for not losing this war, then we must not choose to lose it."
By contrast, Obama told the Kansas City crowd of about 6,000 VFW members that "all of our top military commanders recognize there is no military solution in Iraq." The Illinois senator called for diplomacy but also sought to appear hawkish in pledging that as president he would redeploy at least two military brigades back to Afghanistan.
Iran has developed a new 2,000-pound "smart" bomb, state-run television reported Aug. 23, the latest in a recent series of announcements of new weapons systems. The guided bomb can be deployed by Iran's aging U.S.-made F-4 and F-5 fighter jets. Earlier last month the Islamic regime said it had started industrial-scale production of its own fighter jet to upgrade its moribund air force, much of which dates from before Iran's 1979 revolution.
The weapons plan unfolded just after the Bush administration announced plans to target the business dealings of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the largest branch of the country's armed services, with sanctions-a diplomatic screw-tightening aimed at getting Tehran to suspend its uranium enrichment program. The action formally links the Revolutionary Guards to support of terrorist groups, and the new measures could pave the way for U.S. military action against Iran should it fail to comply.
Hope narrowed to a pinpoint in the search for six miners trapped in a Crandall Canyon, Utah, coal mine. On Aug. 23, search organizers were set to begin drilling a sixth borehole. Mine co-owner Robert Murray said it would be the last. Seismic activity on Aug. 6 caused the implosion, trapping the six men 450 meters underground. No signs of life have been heard from inside the mine since. Three rescue workers were killed Aug. 17 when a seismic "bump" buried them under rubble. But Murray angered families of the missing miners when he said that if the search is abandoned, his company will not attempt to recover the bodies.
As the housing crunch continues, more Americans are losing their homes. U.S. foreclosure filings nearly doubled in July from the previous year, according to a report last week from RealtyTrac, Inc.-179,599 mortgage foreclosures in July, a 93 percent increase from the 92,845 foreclosures reported in July of 2006. That's one foreclosure filing for every 693 U.S. households in one month. Nevada has the highest rate, with one foreclosure for every 199 households.
Perhaps Democrats' new religious civility hasn't reached the Bayou State, where the Democratic Party aired an ad accusing Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal of calling Protestants "scandalous, depraved, selfish, and heretical." Jindal, a Republican and a Catholic, is running for governor. The narrator in the 30-second spot, which is running in heavily Protestant areas, says Jindal "wrote articles that insulted thousands of Louisiana Protestants" before he was a public official. Jindal called the ad a defamatory distortion of his writings, but Democratic Party officials refused to stop airing it.
In a 1996 article for New Oxford Review, a Roman Catholic magazine, Jindal wrote that Catholicism was the true Christian faith, and referred to a "scandalous series of divisions and new denominations" of religions since the Reformation. But he also wrote that the Catholics must embrace "spirit-led movements" of other Christian faiths.
After maintaining his innocence for four months, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick changed his tune Aug. 20, announcing through his attorney that he would plead guilty to federal charges of illegal dogfighting. Should the plea agreement mirror those of Vick's two co-defendants, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges Aug. 17, the NFL star could face 12 to 18 months in prison. What's more, the Virginia Commonwealth attorney for Surry County now plans to prosecute Vick on state charges of dogfighting and animal cruelty, crimes that carry a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison.
An FBI request for help in locating two suspicious riders of Washington State ferries collided with political correctness from one of the region's major newspapers. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer refused to publish a photo of the men because, as managing editor David McCumber explained, "we didn't have enough information to warrant it." Federal agents asked local media to run the photo after receiving several reports from passengers and ferry workers that the two men seemed "overly interested in the workings and layouts of the ferries." Washington State's ferry system is the largest in the country and the No. 1 target for maritime terrorism, according to a Justice Department assessment. Rather than assist the FBI, the Post-Intelligencer offered readers a chance to express their feelings on the story in a haiku contest, a move the paper quickly retracted amid public outcry.
Free at ltas
And speaking of punishment, scholar Haleh Esfandiari, 67, was released Aug. 21 after four months in solitary confinement at Tehran's infamous Evin Prison. Her 93-year-old mother posted bail by handing authorities the deed to her apartment. Esfandiari still faces charges of endangering Iran's national security and authorities still hold her passport, making an immediate exit impossible.