Space & Innovation

Arctic Avalanche Buries Small Town

An avalanched buried 10 homes on the Svalbard archipelago in the heart of the Norwegian Arctic.

Several people were injured and several others missing on Saturday after an avalanche buried about 10 houses on the Svalbard archipelago in the heart of the Norwegian Arctic, local officials said.

"Several people have been injured and hospitalized. Some people are also missing," the region's government said on its website.

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"All available human resources are mobilized for the rescue operation."

A spokesman for the rescue services said four adults and two children were hospitalized but that their injuries were not life threatening.

Around 10 brightly colored wooden houses, typical of the style found in the archipelago, were buried by the avalanche which happened at around 11:00 am (1000 GMT).

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Witnesses said the snow had shifted the houses set on hillsides about 20 meters.

One resident, Kine Bakkeli, told NRK public television that she had managed to escape through a window. "It's complete chaos here," she said.

Rescuers, police and residents using spades raced to clear houses buried under a thick layer of snow in the hope of finding the missing.

It was not known how many people were missing.

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A team of doctors was planning to set out from the Norwegian city of Tromso for Longyearbyen, Svalbard's main town.

Emergency accommodation has been set up in a youth center and the town's church.

Weather conditions have been harsh since Friday with authorities warning people to take care in high winds.

Although deadly, Hurricane Isaac scourged Louisiana with less ferocity than Hurricane Katrina did seven years ago. Katrina was one of American history's deadliest and costliest natural disasters. Part of what made Katrina such a tragedy was the inadequate emergency response from authorities. However, as intense as the outcry over the response to Katrina was, it pales in comparison to the repercussions of when one of history's deadliest storms struck what is now Bangladesh. Bangladesh was a part of Pakistan at that time, but the people of East Pakistan, as the region was called, suffered discrimination from the western portion of the nation and revolution was smoldering. The flames of nationalism and rebellion were fanned by the high winds of the massive Bhola cyclone which rushed in from the Bay of Bengal on November 10, 1970. The Pakistani government was criticized by locals and in the international media for failure to provide adequate disaster relief to East Pakistan, which may have contributed to the 300,000 to 500,000 people who perished in the storm and its aftermath. Soon after the cyclone, the storm of East Pakistan's outrage built into a war that tore Pakistan apart. The torment of war raged on until Bangladesh emerged as an independent nation from the flood of bloodshed that was the Bangladesh Liberation War. Throughout history massive storms have toppled human ambitions and left suffering and death in their wake. Particular natural disasters stand out from the line up of perpetrators as particularly devastating natural born killers.

The Day America Burned The wildfires that incinerated stretches of the American west this year were huge, but relatively few people lost their lives. On October 8, 1871 more people died in the flames of a wildfire than on any other day in recorded human history. On that day the Peshtigo Fire started in the forests of Wisconsin and was spread by a strong wind. The blaze quickly grew as it fed on trees left parched by a summer drought. The flames weren't extinguished until after they had snuffed out the lives of 1,200 – 2,500 people. The exact number is unknown because local records were also destroyed. The entire town of Peshtigo was consumed, leaving few to identify the charred corpses. On the same day, the Great Chicago Fire reduced much of the Windy City to ashes. Though Mrs. O'Leary's cow was later cleared of any culpability, the story of a kicking cow starting the fire became part of the legend surrounding the blaze that killed 300.

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