Extreme weather events in 2019: Killer typhoons, Venice floods and the Sydney smoke crisis

Extreme weather events in 2019: Killer typhoons, Venice floods and the Sydney smoke crisis

An aerial view shows a Japan Self-Defence Force helicopter flying over residential areas flooded by
An aerial view shows a Japan Self-Defence Force helicopter flying over residential areas flooded by the Chikuma river following Typhoon Hagibis in Nagano, central Japan, Oct 13, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Kyodo)

SINGAPORE: Disasters sparked by extreme weather were widespread and prevalent throughout 2019, concluding a decade that the United Nations warns will be the hottest in history

Here’s a snapshot of some of the extreme weather events around the world this year.

BUSHFIRES IN AUSTRALIA

Social media image of a kookaburra perching on a burnt tree in the aftermath of a bushfire in Walla
A kookaburra perches on a burnt tree in the aftermath of a bushfire in Wallabi Point, New South Wales, Australia, Nov 12, 2019, in this image obtained from social media. (Photo: Reuters/Adam Stevenson)

Australian bushfires have caused unprecedented pollution along the country's east coast, blanketing cities from Sydney to Brisbane in smoke for weeks on end. 

At least six people have died and more than 700 homes destroyed.

In early December, a spokesperson for the New South Wales department of environment declared that the bushfires and dust have caused "some of the highest air pollution ever seen" in Australia. 

READ: Sydney smoke crisis "longest on record"

READ: Australians protest as bushfire haze sparks health concerns

The region "has experienced other periods of poor air quality that lasted several weeks", but "this event ... is the longest and the most widespread in our records", she said.

Bushfires are common in Australia, but scientists say this year's season has come earlier and with more intensity due to a prolonged drought fuelled by climate change. 

Up to 20,000 people -- many wearing face masks -- marched in Sydney, demanding Prime Minister Scott
Up to 20,000 people - many wearing face masks - marched in Sydney, demanding Prime Minister Scott Morrison address directly the smoke crisis that has caused health problems to spike. (Photo: AFP/Saeed Khan)

The fires have spawned numerous headlines, putting the spotlight on everything from the fate of golf's prestigious Australian Open to that of the hundreds of koalas living in the fire zone.

Earlier this week, up to 20,000 protesters rallied in Sydney demanding urgent climate action from Australia's government, as smoke from the bushfires choking the city caused health problems to spike. 

READ: Hundreds of rare koalas feared dead in Australia bushfire

READ: "Bear" the dog helps find koalas injured in Australian bushfires

Hundreds of rare koalas feared dead in Australia bushfire
The bushfire is believed to have been sparked by a lightning strike. (Image: Koala Hospital Port Macquarie) 

CYCLONES IN SOUTH ASIA

People ride a motorbike through debris on a road after Cyclone Fani hit Puri
People move through debris on a road after Cyclone Fani hit Puri, in the eastern state of Odisha, India, May 3, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

At least two major cyclones smashed into the coasts of India and Bangladesh this year, wreaking havoc with its fierce gales and torrential rains.

In May, Cyclone Fani made landfall, killing at least 34 in India and five in Bangladesh. One of the most powerful storms to hit the area in years, the cyclone destroyed houses, ripped off roofs and cut off power, water and telecommunications. 

Later in November, the destruction from Cyclone Bulbul killed at least 20 people in Bangladesh. More than 2 million were evacuated from their homes.

Bangladesh’s low-lying coast, as well as India’s east are regularly faced with clones. In recent decades, at least hundreds of thousands of people living around the Bay of Bengal have been killed.

HEATWAVE IN EUROPE

FILE PHOTO: People cool off in the Trocadero fountains across from the Eiffel Tower in Paris
FILE PHOTO: People cool off in the Trocadero fountains across from the Eiffel Tower in Paris as a new heatwave broke temperature records in France, July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo

A ferocious heatwave smashed records across Europe in the middle of the year, with the temperature in France surpassing 45 degrees Celsius for the first time on record.

The country, along with Spain, Italy and parts of central Europe were particularly hit by the soaring temperatures. Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands all saw new temperature records as well.

READ: Europe's record-setting heatwave to spike even higher

The extreme temperature caused about 1,500 more deaths than usual in France over June and July, up 9.1 per cent on average for the period according to the country’s health ministry.

The World Meteorological Organisation said the heatwave in Europe was “absolutely consistent” with extremes linked to the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

FLOODING IN VENICE

Italy floods
A photographer takes pictures in a flooded St. Mark's Square, in Venice, Italy. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

On top of sweltering summer temperatures, Venice was also hit with bouts of intense flooding as it neared the end of the year. 

The UNESCO World Heritage Site was hit by multiple major floods in less than a week, with water levels hitting their highest in half a century, at one point leaving about 80 per cent of the city submerged.

READ: Devastated Venice braced for third major flood

The crisis led to the government releasing €20 million (US$22 million) to tackle the devastation to churches, shops and homes.

“On behalf of the whole team, we stand close to the city of Venice,” said Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. He was speaking on behalf of the country’s football team, which had travelled to Venice in a show of solidarity.

TYPHOON HAGIBIS 

Aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis in Nagano Prefecture
Rescue workers transport a resident in the aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis near the Chikuma River in Nagano Prefecture, Japan, Oct 14, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Typhoon Hagibis slammed into Japan in October, killing more than 70 people across the country and triggering landslides, fierce wind and rain, and causing dozens of rivers to burst their banks.

Tens of thousands of households suffered electricity blackouts and more than 100,000 households were without running water.

READ: Japanese rescuers continue search for typhoon survivors as toll reaches 74

Rescuers were working round the clock to help those affected, with the defence ministry calling up several hundred reserve troops for the first time since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The crisis led Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to announce a 710 million yen (US$6.5 million) package to help areas affected by the typhoon.

TYPHOON KAMMURI

Residents are seen after Typhoon Kammuri hit Camalig town
Residents are seen after Typhoon Kammuri hit Camalig town, Philippines, December 3, 2019. REUTERS/Nino Luces

More recently, the deadly Typhoon Kammuri pounded the Philippines earlier this month, killing at least 13 people, toppling trees and flattening homes.  

The country's Ninoy Aquino International Airport was closed for half a day as a precaution, affecting hundreds of flights, while the SEA Games 2019 saw some programming postponed.

The passage of the typhoon also intensified monsoon rains in the country's north, leaving the region hit by some of its worst flooding in decades and forcing tens of thousands from their homes.

READ: Philippines floods force 66,000 from homes

HURRICANE DORIAN

Red Cross officials have been taken aback by the scale of devasation wrought by recent natural
Red Cross officials have been taken aback by the scale of devasation wrought by recent natural disasters, such as Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. (Photo: AFP/Brendan Smialowski)

Although the Bahamas sees multiple hurricanes a year, the strength of Hurricane Dorian took people by surprise.

At least 63 people were killed and hundreds went missing. Thousands lost their homes and schools as about 75 per cent of buildings were destroyed in the areas where the hurricane passed through. 

READ: Dorian forces Bahamas to find new schools for 10,000 displaced students

READ: Red Cross scrambles to address surging climate-related risks

Red Cross officials had thought the island nation was well-prepared, but the mammoth effect of the storm was not anticipated.

“We were prepared for hurricanes as we knew them to be ... (but) we could not have anticipated the strength of Dorian,” said the head of Bahamas Red Cross. She called the incident a “climate change disaster”.

Source: CNA/nc(hs)

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