Nature's Nightmares
March 31, 2014

For years, experts have been saying "The Big One" — a high-magnitude earthquake that is bound to hit Southern California and cause a devastating amount of death and destruction — will likely occur on the San Andreas fault, which meanders its way through the fringes of the Los Angeles suburbs. But recent activity on the Puente Hills fault has scientists worried that The Big One could be even more catastrophic.

The U.S. Geological Survey and Southern California Earthquake Center have estimated that a large-scale quake on the Puente Hills fault — which runs from northern Orange County through downtown Los Angeles to Hollywood — could kill anywhere from 3,000 to 18,000 people and cause up to $250 billion in damages, the Los Angeles Times reports. The intense destruction would be due to the vulnerability of older buildings in downtown L.A. and Hollywood, and the fact that Puente Hills is a horizontal fault, which means shaking is likely to be felt over a larger area.

By contrast, if a magnitude 8 were to strike on the San Andreas, the damage would still be terrible, but not as severe — the number of estimated deaths is 1,800. To further terrify all Southern California residents, experts think that the Puente Hills fault has a giant quake about every 2,500 years, and they aren't sure when the last one was; Puente Hills was an "invisible" fault until 1999, and was discovered only after scientists put sensors underground. Read more about the fault and the damage it could cause at the Los Angeles Times. Catherine Garcia

This just in
8:13 a.m. ET

The U.S. will no longer be training Syrian rebels, Obama administration officials said Friday. After the $500 million Pentagon program failed to produce ground combat forces that could effectively take on the Islamic State in Syria, The New York Times reports that the White House decided to pull the plug.

The program had initially promised to produce 5,000 capable fighters by the end of the year, a goal that officials admitted at the end of last month was "unattainable," Foreign Policy reports. The U.S. had suspended the recruitment of new fighters last month after the first two groups that were trained had "either been killed, handed over some of their equipment to the al Qaeda-backed al Nusra Front, or simply melted away," Foreign Policy says.

Pentagon officials are expected to make an official announcement Friday. Becca Stanek

Crisis in Syria
8:08 a.m. ET

With Syrian forces, backed by Russian and Iranian military assistance, attacking rebel forces and occupying their attention, Islamic State attacked the rebels from the other side on Thursday night, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. By Friday, ISIS had captured a string of towns and villages, starting with a rebel-held Syrian military base, north of Aleppo. Iran also blamed ISIS for the death Thursday afternoon of a senior Revolutionary Guard commander, Gen. Hossein Hamedani, who Iranian state television said "martyred by Daesh [ISIS] terrorists while carrying out an advisory mission in the outskirts of Aleppo."

The surprise attack by ISIS was its biggest advance in months, The Associated Press reports, citing the Observatory. "Why didn't America attack Daesh fighters during their attack?" asked the group's director, Rami Abdurrahman. BBC News explains the complicated tangle of alliances and objectives in Syria in the video below. Peter Weber

This just in
7:08 a.m. ET
CC by: Jimmy Emerson, DVM

Northern Arizona University said Thursday that one person was dead and three wounded overnight outside a dorm at the university's Flagstaff campus. The suspected shooter is in custody and the campus isn't on lockdown, the university added. NSU spokeswoman Cindy Brown didn't provide many details about the shooting, except that it was first reported at about 1:20 a.m. local time happened outside Mountain View Hall, a dormitory that ABC News says houses most of the students involved in Greek organizations. Peter Weber

5:35 a.m. ET

The winner of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize isn't Pope Francis or German Chancellor Angela Merkel or any of the other high-profile objects of speculation. On Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the prestigious prize to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a civic group, "for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011." The Quartet formed in 2013, in the chaos unleashed during the Arab Spring, and the Nobel committee gave the prize to the group rather than its four main member organizations — the Tunisian General Labor Union; the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade, and Handicrafts; the Tunisian Human Rights League; and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers — because they "represent different sectors and values in Tunisian society" and thus could "advance peaceful democratic development in Tunisia with great moral authority."

The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet didn't turn Tunisia into a peaceful oasis, the Nobel committee noted: The country still "faces significant political, economic, and security challenges." But the Norwegians said awarding the group the Nobel Peace Prize would serve as "an inspiration to all those who seek to promote peace and democracy in the Middle East, North Africa, and the rest of the world" and, more directly, "as an encouragement to the Tunisian people, who despite major challenges have laid the groundwork for a national fraternity which the committee hopes will serve as an example to be followed by other countries." You can watch the announcement below. Peter Weber

last night on late night
4:25 a.m. ET

Lena Dunham has an email newsletter about women's issues, and she opted for a newsletter because it's "kind of an intimate format," she told Jimmy Kimmel on Thursday's Kimmel Live. "We're reaching you in your inbox. You don't have to come to us, we're coming to you." But the newsletter isn't just about women's health, she said; it also includes interviews with political figures and a horoscope. Oh, Kimmel said, "you have a horoscope writer?" Yes, they have "an amazing woman," Dunham said, and Kimmel asked how she does her business. "Is she, like, 'Ah I feel like Pisces is going to have a great, positive day today'?"

Dunham said that the woman, a poet, does her astrological research and translates it into messages for readers. "Do you believe in any of that stuff?" Kimmel asked. "So much," Dunham said. "You do?" Kimmel asked. Dunham said she believes in horoscopes and psychics: "Mercury is in retrograde — if any of your technology is failing, that's what's been going on." Kimmel was bemused: "I find it hard to believe that you believe that." Dunham responded like any believer would: "I've felt its effects myself — a psychic told me when I was going to meet my boyfriend." It turned out, they do have one thing in common about psychics: Both of their mothers believe in them. Kimmel noted that his mother's psychic worked at a Pizza Hut. "It's hard to make a living on just your psychic abilities," Dunham pointed out. Watch the deep stuff below. Peter Weber

diners drive-ins and dorms
1:50 a.m. ET

Per Se is now passé — New York City diners are flocking to Pith, a small supper club operating out of a Columbia University student's dorm.

Jonah Reider, a senior economics major, uses the communal kitchen to prepare his prix fixe New American meals — one recent dinner included seared lamb chops with paprika, barley with figs, snow peas with pancetta and mushrooms, house pickled red kale stalks with olive, and artisanal cheese. "I think of myself as better than the average college student but definitely not an amazing cook, so I'm pleasantly surprised by all the positive feedback," Reider told NBC New York.

Reider charges $10 to $20 a meal, and takes reservations four nights a week through Pith's Yelp page, which currently boasts five star reviews. Since opening Pith a few weeks ago, Reider has served a few "randos," but most diners have been friends. Good luck getting a table if you don't have an in — Pith is booked through January, and because the health department is looking into whether it should be held to the same regulations as an actual restaurant, Reider said "I may have to cool down the acceptance of people who I don't know, or the frequency of which this is happening." Reider maintains that even though he is charging for food he cooks, Pith is nothing like a typical dining establishment. "The intention and the atmosphere is not one of a restaurant," he told NBC New York. "It's a collective experience of getting to know people." Catherine Garcia

study says
1:06 a.m. ET

Researchers in Japan say that children living near the Fukushima nuclear plant have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer at a rate 20 to 50 times that of children in other places.

"This is more than expected and emerging faster than expected," lead author Toshihide Tsuda told The Associated Press. Since the nuclear meltdowns in 2011, most of the 370,000 children living in the Fukushima prefecture have had ultrasound checkups, with the most recent statistics released in August showing 137 children have confirmed or suspected thyroid cancer, up 25 from last year. In other areas, an estimated one or two of every million children are diagnosed with thyroid cancer annually.

Because of the Chernobyl disaster, scientists have been able to definitively link thyroid cancer in children to radiation, AP reports, and the authors dispute the government's stance that a high number of cases have been found because of constant monitoring. Scott Davis, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Seattle-based School of Public Health, said the study has a lack of individual-level data to estimate actual radiation doses. While that data is needed, David J. Brenner, professor of radiation biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center says, the higher thyroid cancer rate in Fukushima is "not due to screening. It's real."

When treated, thyroid cancer is rarely fatal in children, but they will always have to take medication. The study will be published in the November issue of Epidemiology. Catherine Garcia

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