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Climatic Catastrophes Strike as US freezes, Australia Fries
Dec 28, 2001

Countries around the world were trying to cope with climatic catastrophe, as a big freeze chilled Europe and North America, Brazil recovered from torrential rains, bushfires blazed in an Australian heatwave and Saudis prayed for rain to slake an ongoing drought. North America was plunged into the throes of an intense cold front that buried Buffalo, New York in almost one metre (three feet) of snow and saw temperatures slide well below freezing. In Europe, the chill has claimed hundreds of lives. A winter coldsnap in Poland has claimed 178 lives since October, according to local police, a figure well above the 112 killed by the cold last year. Authorities in Bulgaria declared a state of emergency in the northeast of the country after the worst snowfalls in 30 years, where three more people died in the intense cold, according to the civil defense department. And in Russia, no stranger to bitter cold, Moscow authorities said three people had died in sub-zero temperatures, bringing to 250 the number to perish in the city's icy chill this winter.

But in the southern hemisphere, bush fires raged around Sydney as Australia sweltered in a heat wave, with temperatures set to soar over the weekend to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Authorities were bracing for a tough time battling the flames Sunday, when forecasters are predicting low humidity, temperatures of 39 degrees Celsius and fresh to strong northeasterly winds - the worst cocktail for bushfires. Although the fires are believed to have been started deliberately, the roasting temperatures are making it harder for the authorities to bring them under control. In Brazil, massive mudslides triggered by torrential rain in Rio de Janeiro state engulfed homes, claiming at least 50 lives and leaving nearly 2,000 people homeless. Over 30 people were still missing, rescue authorities said. The area around the former imperial capital of Petropolis, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Rio de Janeiro, was worst hit in the landslides after torrential rains struck for 16 hours earlier in the week.

In Saudi Arabia, however, thousands of people filled the country's Mosques to pray for rain, as the imam of Mecca's Grand Mosque blamed the drought on sin and corruption. Saudis have twice already offered up rain prayers this year, but with little apparent success. Most northern and central regions have remained dry and southwest areas of the kingdom have had only little rain. Meteorologists have forecast below average rainfall, which if accurate will result in further drought next year. The spate of extreme weather across the globe comes as many scientists warn that populations will have to get used to increasing incidences of drought, searing heat, icy cold and flooding, which they say characterize the so-called greenhouse-effect. Climatologists have warned that a trend of increasing global temperatures is not the only phenomenon from the effect they blame on a build-up of greenhouse gasses - those given off by burning fossil fuels - accumulating in the earth's atmosphere. Scientists have warned that along with rising temperatures, the world will see established weather patterns disturbed and higher frequency of extreme weather.

Countries which usually fairly modest temperatures, such as Germany, have reported intense lows, with the southern region of Bavaria seeing temperatures of almost minus 46 degrees Celsius (minus 51 Fahrenheit) on Monday. The chill is the lowest recorded in the region since 1870, while hurricane-force winds hit mountainous regions and a heavy blanket of snow forced many motorists to stay at home, according to weather services. Temperatures in Moscow dropped to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus four Fahrenheit) this month, where heavy snowfalls have been recorded. But, as in Poland, most of those reported to have been killed by the bitter weather are homeless people who fall asleep in the open after drinking large quantities of alcohol, according to officials. In Warsaw, where temperatures have fallen well below freezing, police say they pick up about 200 people from the streets every day and take them to detoxification centres. In Bulgaria, which is one of Europe's poorest countries and where the heaviest snowfall in decades has covered the country, two men were found dead in their unheated homes.