Disaster and hope

"Disaster and hope" Continued...

Issue: "News of the Year," Dec. 27, 2008

-the writer, who could not be identified because of his contact with church workers in Myanmar, travels regularly to southeast Asia

Caribbean toll

By The Editors

Associated Press/Photo by Ariana Cubillos

The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season marked the first time six consecutive storms made landfall on U.S. soil-the worst of which were Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Memories of Hurricane Katrina spurred nearly 2 million people to flee the Louisiana coast before Gustav, a Category 2 hurricane, made landfall on Sept. 1. Although the resulting storm damage paled in comparison to Katrina, Gustav snapped trees, sheered off roofs, and decimated as much as half of Louisiana's $600 million annual sugar cane crop. Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Ike plowed into Galveston, Texas, also a Category 2 hurricane, and brought with it the state's second-highest storm surge on record. The storm's force wiped out neighborhoods, killed more than 30 people, and disrupted oil and gas production in the Gulf.

It was in the Caribbean, however, that this year's hurricane season took its greatest toll after a series of systems pummeled the islands in a matter of weeks. One of the hardest hit areas was Haiti, where torrential downpours from four storms-Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike-sparked extensive flooding, killed nearly 800 people, and destroyed 22,702 homes in the impoverished nation.

Texting ban

By The Editors

Associated Press/Photo by Hector Mata

The U.S. Railroad Administration on Oct. 2 banned the use of cell phones and other electronic devices by rail workers in an emergency ruling after investigators said Amtrak train engineer Robert Sanchez sent a text message seconds before running a red light and slamming head-on into a freight train outside Los Angeles on Sept. 12, killing 25 people. Cell phone records for Sanchez, killed in the crash, showed he sent and received 57 text messages while on duty that day, including one sent 22 seconds before the collision. Six train accidents between 2000 and 2006-four of them deadly-involved the use of cell phones.

Food crisis

By The Editors

Associated Press/Photo by Emilio Morenatti

In February U.S. wheat futures reached their highest price on record, and by May the rest of the world was feeling it. As bread prices from New York to New Delhi doubled almost overnight, world food officials warned that for the world's poorest it was not a matter of affordability but of survival: A December UN report estimated that 14 percent of the world's population-including an increase of 40 million people-did not get enough to eat this year. Drought and speculative price hikes combined with the drain of aid efforts focused on Myanmar's cyclone and a major earthquake in China-not to mention political factors-to make India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Ethiopia the world's most undernourished countries.

Deadly season

By The Editors

Scott Burton/Getty Images

One of the deadliest tornado seasons on record began in February when a cluster of tornadoes tore through parts of Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, killing 59 people and injuring dozens. Among the storms' initial casualties was Union University in Jackson, Tenn., where rescue workers spent hours digging through the twisted rubble of the Southern Baptist school's dorms to reach 13 trapped students.

A month later, storms swept across parts of Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Arkansas, killing 17 people, flooding major roadways, and damaging hundreds of homes. Another round of Midwest storms in June left 13 people dead and sparked extensive flooding in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. The hardest hit areas included central Iowa and Cedar Rapids, where flooding continued for as long as two weeks, forcing thousands of people to evacuate and destroying an estimated 25 percent of the state's corn crop.

In the West, a June thunderstorm unleashed a series of lightning strikes that ignited some 2,000 wildfires across drought-ridden northern California. By summer's end, the fires had burned over a million acres-more than twice the devastation of the October 2007 fires. Then in November, a series of fires chewed through southern California, scorching another 40,000 acres including parts of Westmont College, a 1,300-student Christian liberal arts school in Santa Barbara.


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