dangers of volcanoes, crater lakes, and lahars are revealed in
this first program of the SAVAGE PLANET series. The immediate
dangers of active volcanoes are well known -- the deadly eruption
of boiling rock and lava that can swiftly envelop entire communities.
But there are hidden dangers as well. The fatal combination of
volcano and water poses other kinds of threats.
More than 100 volcanoes have lakes at their summits. While a volcano
itself may be dormant for hundreds of years, its crater lake may
hide a volatile fury. In Nyos, West Africa, the crater at the
summit of a seemingly dormant volcano had, over time, become a
lake. But beneath the surface, from between volcanic rocks and
the earth, vast quantities of carbon dioxide was accumulating.
One night, a cliff collapse disturbed the lake, releasing the
deadly gases and taking the lives of 1,700 people.
In New Zealand on Christmas Eve of 1953, the worst rail disaster
in that country's history was caused by lahars, mudflows formed
by a lethal combination of water and volcanic debris. Lahars were
also responsible for much of the destruction when Mount Saint
Helens in Washington erupted in 1980. In this program, volcanologists
explain why its neighbor, Mount Ranier, may be next. In the Philippines,
the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 coincided with the annual
typhoons, creating massive lahars that decimated the surrounding
area for months. Survivors who lost loved ones in the disaster
recount their terrifying ordeal.
of the Century
think of hurricanes as the biggest storms on Earth. Meteorologists
give them names and track their destructive paths on the news.
An extratropical cyclone -- a storm born outside of the tropics
-- on occasion can grow even bigger than a hurricane.
This program opens in Florida, where, in 1993, an extratropical
cyclone began a reign of terror that destroyed lives all along
the East Coast. More people died in this storm than in Hurricanes
Andrew and Hugo combined. A U.S. Coast Guard pilot and the fisherman
he saved relive a daring helicopter rescue. Further north, a record
snowfall brought the entire Appalachian region to a standstill.
Campers in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains recall being near death,
lost, and frostbitten, before helicopters finally rescued them.
Off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia, helicopters couldn't make
it to the scene of a large bulk-carrier foundering in massive
waves. Royal Canadian Air Force pilots circled their aircraft
overhead, maintaining contact with the crew and recording every
harrowing moment with an infrared camera. Their footage is some
of the most dramatic in the program. Captain Michel Carriere remembers
watching helplessly from above as a 100-foot wave finally took
the vessel. "Basically some big hand squeezed my heart and just
almost paralyzed me for a few seconds, as I realized that the
33 people I had just talked to were now under water and either
dead or drowning," he says.
Here, the program takes a turn into the past to examine a nearly
forgotten disaster. In this case, the culprit was a storm surge,
another rare, meteorological phenomenon that occurs when low pressure
passes over a body of water. In 1953, very low pressure and hurricane-force
winds coincided with a high tide, allowing the sea to rise and
creating the biggest storm surge in northern Europe in living
The storm surge's victims included all of the women and children
aboard the British railcar ferry Princess Victoria. A surviving
crew member recollects the harrowing drama. A United States serviceman
who helped rescue 27 people in the English coastal town of Hunstanton,
engulfed by the storm surge, recounts his efforts. Three brothers
who survived the storm on England's Canvey Island talk about the
loss of three younger brothers. On islands off the Dutch coast,
where the same storm caused the highest tide in recorded history,
memories of shattered dykes, submerged villages, and lost lives
are equally disturbing.
delves deep into the secrets of the Earth's atmosphere and beyond
to discover the strange and deadly powers that reside there. Killer
bolts of lightning seem to appear out of the blue. Hail comes
just as suddenly, destroying crops and homes in a violent clatter.
Rocks from space reshape the landscape and sometimes change the
course of history.
In Surrey Hills, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, no one will ever
forget the 1999 supercell thunderstorm that caused giant hailstones
to come plummeting out of the sky. The storm generated so much
electrical energy it could have powered the city for a day. Also
in Australia, the program meets up with a woman who was struck
by lightning in 1993. She tells of being knocked unconscious for
90 minutes and sustaining burns to 30% of her body. Two glider
pilots tell of their own bout with a lightning bolt, which literally
blew them out of the sky. In Florida, the lightning capital of
the United States, scientists at Camp Blanding show how they create
lightning for research purposes, and NASA meteorologists at Cape
Canaveral explain the importance of their work to the space program.
Sometimes, the exploration of space starts right here on Earth.
In 1992, in the little town of Peekskill, New York, a 27-pound
meteor hit the Earth's atmosphere at 4,000 miles per hour. It
punched a hole right through the trunk of a 1980 Chevrolet Malibu.
The program catches up with the owner who was nearby when the
meteor crashed. For many, ancient debris from space is a passion,
and the program introduces planetary scientists, collectors, and
enthusiasts, chronicles the discovery of the Shoemaker-Levy 9
comet, and examines the famous Meteor Crater in Arizona.
in the depths of winter and the hottest, driest, lowest place
in North America are the austere settings for this program. The
imagery is stunning -- rugged snow-capped peaks juxtaposed with
endless vistas of salt flats shimmering in the hot sun -- but
the realities of these extreme environments are harsh.
Climbers and skiers tell how they barely escaped with their lives
when avalanches swept them off the slopes in Utah's Wasatch Mountains.
This program documents efforts here and in Washington state to
control the snow by triggering avalanches with explosives. At
Stevens Pass in Washington, America's worst avalanche disaster
took place. Photographs from the disaster, in 1910, reveal the
twisted wreckage of two trains that were pushed off the track
and rolled down into a river. The program also revisits a more
recent tragedy, the avalanche that devastated parts of the Chamonix
Valley in France in 1999.
The program also shows how desert regions are equally unforgiving
and full of mystery. A geologist is the guide to Death Valley's
dry lakebeds, strange outcroppings of rock, "sliding rocks" that
appear to move without provocation, and other phenomena. United
States Geological Survey scientists are seen at work in the salt
flats, the hottest place in the valley, where they record a surface
temperature of 122 degrees Fahrenheit, and an air temperature
of 112 degrees. Residents and other aficionados of Death Valley
have their say in the program, too, explaining their intense attraction
to this inhospitable place.