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September 6, 2017

The western half of Oregon is burning, with fire crews battling more than a dozen forest fires that have already singed hundreds of thousands of acres up and down the state. The blaze that's getting the most attention now, though, is the Eagle Creek fire, ignited from the Eagle Creek Trail in the scenic Columbia Gorge on Saturday, apparently by a 15-year-old boy from Washington who dropped fireworks down into dry forest. As of Tuesday night, more than 10,000 acres are on fire, a 45-mile stretch of Interstate 84 is closed to traffic, the Coast Guard has suspended marine travel along a 20-mile stretch of the Columbia River, and up to an inch of ash has fallen on nearby Portland.

This is what the Eagle Creek fire looked like from Monday night to Tuesday morning near Cascade Locks, from across the Columbia in Stevenson, Washington. According to The Oregonian, it was 0 percent contained as of Tuesday evening, and 457 people are working to contain it.

The fire, fed by dry weather and high winds, has jumped across the Columbia to Washington State, and prompted mandatory evacuations in east Multnomah County. Many significantly populated areas of Oregon have hazardous levels of smoke and particulate matter in the air. Oregon fire managers have reported no injuries or destroyed buildings yet, though firefighters spent hours protecting the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge from the encroaching blaze. "It's still threatened slightly, but we made a good save there," Portland Fire Department Lt. Damon Simmons said Tuesday morning.

Oregonians and visitors are coming to terms with the idea that the Columbia Gorge will be scarred for decades, and they are posting photos on social media to share what it looked like before Saturday. The Oregonian has rounded up some of the historic structures and natural treasures in the Eagle Creek fire's path.

The West Coast has been battling huge fires all summer, from British Columbia down to California, where the La Tuna fire — the largest in Los Angeles County history — is now 80 percent contained. Peter Weber

August 30, 2017
Arindam Dey/AFP/Getty Images

The annual monsoons in South Asia have been particularly heavy this summer, and at least 41 million people have been directly affected by landslides and flooding in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. More than 1,000 people have died from the rainstorms over the past few weeks, including at least 140 in Bangladesh, at least 143 in Nepal, and 850 or more in six states in India, according to Reuters' tally. After weeks of heavy rains in northern and eastern India, the torrential rains shifted to Mumbai over the weekend, causing heavy flooding and disruptions in India's financial capital on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"This is the severest flooding in a number of years," Francis Markus, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told The New York Times from Nepal's capital. Many of those killed or whose homes and farms were destroyed are among the region's poorest. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew over Bihar state last weekend, pledging millions of dollars in assistance, but "in Nepal and Bangladesh, the government simply doesn't have the resources," American Red Cross official Jono Anzalone tells NPR. Peter Weber

August 24, 2017

On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) declared a pre-emptive state of disaster for 30 counties, and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) set up a crisis task force to prepare for Tropical Storm Harvey, expected to make landfall in Texas on Friday night or Saturday morning as a Category 1 hurricane. The National Weather Service and state and local officials are especially worried about Harvey because it is slow-moving and expected to dump 10-15 inches of rain or more on Houston and surrounding areas over the weekend as it crawls northeastward. The National Weather Service issued its first-ever storm surge watch for Calhoun County, Texas, some 150 miles southwest of Houston, meaning that water could rise 4 to 6 feet above ground.

Harvey "could become the first major natural disaster of the Trump presidency," warns Eric Holthaus at Grist. "This is the kind of storm you drop everything to pay attention to." It has already been a wet August for the Texas Gulf Coast, and so the ground is saturated and primed to flood, while Houston is especially vulnerable to devastating floods because of poor city planning and lots of pavement, he notes, and the worst models have 20 to 40 inches of rain dumping on parts of Texas and Louisiana.

Then there's the warming climate, Holthaus says:

Floods like the one in the worst Harvey forecasts have come at an increasingly frequent pace. Since the 1950s, the Houston area has seen a 167 percent increase in heavy downpours. At least four rainstorms so severe they would occur only once in 100 years under normal conditions have hit the area since May 2015. With a warmer climate comes faster evaporation and a greater capacity for thunderstorms to produce epic deluges. ... If Harvey's rains hit the coast with anywhere near the force of the most alarming predictions, we'd be in for disaster. And judging by how New Orleans and Houston have handled recent rains, coupled with the state of federal disaster relief, we're not ready for it. [Grist]

You can read more about Harvey's dangers at Grist. Peter Weber

August 15, 2017

Mudslides that swept through the Regent district outside Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, early Monday have killed at least 312 people, the Red Cross confirmed to AFP, and hundreds more are missing. Part of Sugar Loaf mountain collapsed after a month of unusually heavy rains in the area, burying at least 100 properties and leaving thousands of people homeless, the BBC reports. Freetown, a coastal city of more than 1 million inhabitants, is no stranger to flooding, and as CNN's Tom Sater reports below, July and August are the wettest months for the West African nation:

The search is still underway for survivors, with people reportedly trying to dig through unstable mud with bare hands, and the death toll is expected to rise. Peter Weber

July 21, 2017

Early Friday morning, a strong earthquake struck the Aegean Sea between the Greek island of Kos and the Turkish coastal town Bodrum. At least two vacationers, one from Turkey and the other from Sweden, were killed in the old town of Kos when a popular tourist bar, the White Corner Club, collapsed. At least five other people were seriously injured, and there were some 70 minor injuries and significant flooding reported in Bodrum. Greek officials said the earthquake was a magnitude 6.5, with the epicenter 6 miles deep, 10 miles east-northeast of Kos, and 6 miles south of Bodrum. The U.S. Geological Survey said it was a 6.7-magnitude temblor.

"There was banging, there was shaking, the light was swinging, banging on the ceiling, crockery falling out of the cupboards, and pans were making noise," Christopher Hackland, a Scottish diving instructor, told The Associated Press. Tens of thousands of vacationers spent the rest of the night outside, sleeping on beach sunbeds or wherever else they could find a resting spot. Along with the tourist bar, the ferry terminal, several churches, a 14th century castle, and an old mosque were also damaged in the quake. You can see some of Hackland's raw video of the damage in the AP clip below. Peter Weber

July 16, 2017
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In the Tonto National Forest north of Phoenix, nine people were killed Saturday afternoon when a flash flood swept through a swimming hole where a family was having a gathering, officials said Sunday.

The flash flood hit the Cold Springs Swimming Hole at around 3:19 p.m. local time, and 14 people were washed away. A search and rescue team was able to rescue four people on Saturday; on Sunday, the bodies of a 2-year-old girl and another person were found. Police say they are still searching for one missing person, a 27-year-old man.

The Payson Fire Department said there have been several forest fires recently in the area, and that is likely why so much debris washed down into the swimming hole. "Normally it's just a trickle of a creek, but during the monsoon season it can go from a foot deep to 10 feet deep in a matter of minutes," Gila County Sheriff's Det. David Hornung told NBC News. Catherine Garcia

April 3, 2017
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An extreme thunderstorm system stretching across the South spawned a tornado responsible for the deaths Sunday morning of a 38-year-old woman and her 3-year-old daughter in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

The St. Martin Parish's sheriff's office said a tornado flipped over Francine Gotch's trailer, killing her and her daughter, Neville Alexander. A second tornado was confirmed Sunday afternoon, southeast of Monroe. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center issued a "high risk" warning on Sunday, and the National Weather Service announced a "particularly dangerous situation" tornado watch from east Texas into west-central Mississippi.

Louisiana, Mississippi, and a thin sliver of Texas are bracing for tornadoes, massive hail, and high winds, and forecasters predict the system will move east through Monday. "We've got a large territory that these storms are going to be moving across," Danielle Banks, a meteorologist at The Weather Channel, told NBC News. "As we go through the day on Monday, into the heart of the afternoon, those storms are going to be sweeping through states like Georgia and Florida and over into South Carolina and North Carolina." Catherine Garcia

March 28, 2017
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Tropical Cyclone Debbie roared across northeast Australia on Tuesday, and was classified as a category four when it made landfall in Airlie Beach.

"It's very noisy," witness Jan Clifford in Airlie Beach told Reuters. "Screaming, howling wind, sounds like a freight train." In addition to strong winds and gusts that have reached more than 160 mph, the rain is coming down hard, and there are reports of damage to homes. Thousands of people are also without power. So far, no one has been reported injured. The cyclone is moving slowly, and forecasters say conditions could stay the same for 24 hours. Catherine Garcia

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