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Nature Unleashes Terror Across America

Mother Nature seems to be furious. Across both coasts of America and in the Midwest regions, two forms of severe weather have put citizens to the extreme test. While wildfires have been raging across southern Georgia for three whole weeks now, in its wake scorching 167 square miles of forest and swamp, wet storms across the Southeast are currently churning the sea and have flooded Missouri, forcing many to abandon their homes.

Smoke-filled air created a burning smell and a dusting of ashes that coated cars and buildings through much of Florida and southeastern Georgia. The haze over most of Florida resulted in the closing of several highways and caused people with breathing problems to stay indoors.

The flooding was produced by the drenching weekend thunderstorms across the Plains states that also devastated Greensburg, in Kansas State. In addition to 11 tornado deaths, two drowning deaths were blamed on the storms, one each in Oklahoma and Kansas.

At least 20 levees were flooded along the Missouri River and other streams in the state, according to authorities. No injuries were reported but the Missouri Water Patrol rescued about 20 people from their flooded homes.

In Missouri's Jackson County, authorities evacuated 300 to 400 residents of Levasy on Wednesday. At least a dozen homes were partially under water from the Missouri River. In central Missouri, the state capital, Jefferson City, was preparing for flooding. After floods in 1993 and 1995, the city raised the elevation of its riverside sewage treatment plant, and the federal government bought out scores of homes on the north shore of the river, but the airport and businesses are still vulnerable.

On the West Coast, in view of many Los Angeles residents, a blaze had covered more than 800 acres in the city's sprawling Griffith Park behind the iconic Griffith Observatory. The danger to homes south of the park eased Wednesday and many of the hundr eds of residents evacuated overnight were allowed to return.

The fire appears to have been accidental, according to Battalion chief John Miller, who oversees arson investigations. In the Southeast, a wildfire in northern Florida's Bradford County has forced the evacuation of about 250 homes. That fire had blackened 16,000 to 18,000 acres and was 35 percent contained on Wednesday night.

Officials in southeastern Georgia issued a mandatory evacuation Wednesday for an area including the town of Moniac, saying that by early Thursday it may be in the path of a 107,000-acre blaze, or 167 square miles, in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the largest recorded blaze since state record-keeping began in 1957.

Smoke was spreading across wide areas of Florida as wind circulated around Subtropical Storm Andrea, centered about 100 miles off the Georgia coast with top sustained wind around 45 mph. The National Weather Service forecast that the storm would show little movement and dissipate near the coast in four days.

Battling the blazes won't get much immediate help from rain. Forecasters said no significant downpours were expected over land through at least Thursday morning. The storm's lightning could also spark off more fires, meteorologists said.

Elsewhere, a wildfire near the Canadian border in northeastern Minnesota had covered more than 34 square miles Wednesday, adding more than 8 square miles in one day, authorities said. Since it was spotted over the weekend, it has destroyed 45 buildings, including multimillion-dollar homes, and firefighters said it was just 5 percent contained. More than 100 people had been removed from their homes in the path of the fire.


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