Monday, January 4, 2016

MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT: Societal Chaos And Civilizations Unraveling - Saudi Arabia And Iran Row Escalates; Spreads To Other Nations; Could the Diplomatic War Of Words Boil Over Into War?!

"That the year the Messiah will arrive when all the nations of the world will antagonize each other and threaten with war. The king of Persia (Iran) antagonizes the King of Arabia (Saudi Arabia) with war. The King of Arabia goes to Edom (The Western Countries, headed by USA) for advice. Then the King of Persia destroys the world (and since that cannot be done with conventional weapons it must mean nuclear which can destroy most of the world). And all the nations of the world begin to panic and are afraid, and Israel too is afraid as to how to defend from this. G-d then says to them “Do not fear for everything that I have done is for your benefit, to destroy the evil kingdom of Edom and eradicate evil from this world so that the Messiah can come, your time of redemption is now." - Yalkut Shimoni, 2000-Year-Old Rabbinic Literature.

January 4, 2016 - UNITED STATES - The fallout of Saudi Arabia's execution of a Shiite cleric is spreading beyond a spat between the Saudis and Iranians, as other Middle East nations chose sides Monday and world powers Russia and China weighed in.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran -- two Middle Eastern powerhouses -- quickly deteriorated following Riyadh's execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr Saturday.

Hours after the death sentence was carried out, protesters in Shiite-majority Iran attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. The Saudis cut diplomatic relations with Iran over the attack on its embassy.

Officials from both countries defended their positions Monday and showed no sign of backing down.

Saudi Arabia suspended all flights to and from Iran. It also sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council accusing Iranian authorities of failing in their duties to protect the Saudi embassy.

Jaberi Ansari, a spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry, said his country is committed to protecting diplomatic missions and reiterated that no Saudi diplomats were harmed -- or even present -- during the attack.

He accused Saudi Arabia of "looking for some excuses to pursue its own unwise policies to further tension in the region."

Meanwhile, some nations picked sides while others called for calm.

Here's the latest on where things stand:

Picking sides

Bahrain announced Monday that it was severing diplomatic ties with Iran, citing Tehran's "blatant and dangerous interference" in Bahrain and other Arab countries.

The United Arab Emirates said it was "downgrading" its diplomatic relations with Iran. The UAE recalled its ambassador in Tehran and said it would also reduce the number of diplomats stationed in Iran, according to state news agency WAM. A government statement said the UAE "has taken this exceptional step in light of Iran's ongoing interference in internal (Gulf Cooperation Council) and Arab affairs that has recently reached unprecedented levels."

The diplomatic row spread to Africa, where Sudan -- a majority Sunni Muslim country -- expelled the Iranian ambassador and the entire Iranian diplomatic mission in the country. Sudan also recalled its ambassador from Iran.

The Saudi government announced the Sudanese move, saying Sudan acted because of "the Iranian interference in the region through a sectarian approach."

Russia and China, two of the biggest geopolitical players in the hemisphere, released statements calling for restraint between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

"Moscow is concerned about escalation of the situation in the Middle East with participation of the key regional players," the Russian foreign ministry said Monday. Russia called on the Saudis and Iranians to "show restraint and to avoid any steps that might escalate the situation and raise tensions including interreligious ones."

China's foreign ministry said it is paying close attention to the events and hopes "all parties can remain calm and restrained, use dialogue and negotiations to properly resolve differences, and work together to safeguard the region's peace and stability."

Could the diplomatic war of words boil over?

It had -- even before Saudi Arabia announced its decision to cut ties with Iran, said Fawaz Gerges, chair of contemporary Middle Eastern studies at the London School of Economics.

"Their conflict is playing out on Arab streets big time," he said.

Already the two nations were on opposite sides of conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and Lebanon. Now, he said, the question is how much worse things might get.

"The situation is extremely volatile between the two most powerful states in the Gulf, Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Shiite-dominated Iran. You have a war of words. You have war by proxies ... This really could get very ugly and dangerous in the next few weeks and next few months," Gerges said.

It's possible a more direct military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran could erupt, said retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, a CNN military analyst.

"That's the key issue," he said. "This is spiraling very quickly."

Why are there tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia?

It's nothing new that the two countries aren't seeing eye to eye.

"Iran and Saudi Arabia are neither natural allies nor natural enemies, but natural rivals who have long competed as major oil producers and self-proclaimed defenders of Shia and Sunni Islam, respectively," University of South Florida Professor Mohsen M. Milani wrote in an analysis for CNN in 2011.

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are painting themselves as victims as tensions between them escalate, Gerges said.

"What you have is not only a clash of narratives, you have basically a huge divide, a war by proxy, a cold war taking place between Saudi Arabia and Iran," he said. "It's a war about geopolitics. It's about power. It's about influence."

So why are things getting worse now?

The latest flashpoint emerged after Saudi Arabia executed dissident Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr and dozens of others over the weekend.

It wasn't long before protesters attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran, hurling Molotov cocktails and cheering as the building caught fire. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for divine revenge against Saudi Arabia.

"It was almost inevitable that this (the severing of diplomatic relations) would follow, especially since the response from Iran, completely expectedly, was full of rage, and Iran's supreme leader essentially summoned the wrath of God against Saudi Arabia," said Bobby Ghosh, a CNN global affairs analyst and managing editor of Quartz.

But analysts say looking within Iran and Saudi Arabia gives a greater understanding of why both countries have an interest in fueling the rivalry.

"There are domestic reasons for both of these countries right now to refuse to pull punches against each other," said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group consulting firm.

Saudi Arabia, he said, is dealing with plummeting oil prices and an internal succession battle over who will next take the throne.

Iran, he said, needs a way to block reformists and Western advances in light of the recent nuclear deal. For both sides, he said, nationalist behavior can score points at home.

"That," Bremmer said, "makes this an incredibly dangerous conflict."

What can we expect to see in the coming days?

Don't expect the heated rhetoric to die down any time soon, analysts said.

"This is Saudi Arabia saying, 'The gloves are off,'" Ghosh said.

Gerges said that could ripple across the region.

"We were hoping that a diplomatic solution could be found to the Syrian crisis in the next few months. Forget about it," he said.

"We were hoping for a diplomatic solution in Yemen. Forget about it. ... Here, you have the two most powerful Islamic states in the heart of the Middle East now basically waging a direct confrontation, as opposed to an indirect war by proxy, so ... we should be really alarmed at the escalation of the confrontation." - CNN.

HUMAN DEVOLUTION: Shocking - 14-Year-Old Indian Girl Gang-Raped By Soldiers On Train?!

January 4, 2016 - INDIA
- A teenage girl is receiving treatment in India after she was forced to drink alcohol and then raped by two army officers.

The 14-year-old is understood to have mistakenly boarded a carriage reserved for army officers on the Howrah-Amritsar Express in the eastern state of Jharkhand on Sunday.

Once on board, a junior army officer gave the girl alcohol before another two officers allegedly raped her six times when she went to the toilet.

The Indian Express reports the girl had run away from her home in Kolkata earlier that day after not being allowed to visit her friend.

After her family reported her missing, authorities established she had boarded a train when she was spotted on CCTV footage.

Police halted the train at a station in Madhupur, where a search of all carriages was carried out. The girl was found in a near unconscious state in the army carriage with one of the officers, Mandrish Tripathi, beside her.

Officers removed her from the train, Tripathi was arrested, and the train allowed to continue its journey. The victim appeared to be unaware of what had occurred.

When police questioned the girl, it emerged she had been forced to drink alcohol and raped.

After a medical exam confirming this, the girl identified the perpetrators on the railway’s CCTV footage.

By this time, however, it was noon on Monday and the accused army officers had already disembarked the train, The Times of India reports.

While two officers remain at large, Tripathi has been charged under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act for supplying alcohol to the teenage girl.

The army is understood to be working with detectives to establish the identities and whereabouts of the other two accused officers.

Following the fatal gang rape of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh by a group of six men on a bus in Delhi in 2012, and the controversy and media coverage that followed, India has increased its scrutiny of such crimes and intensified its approach to dealing with them.

The government has since introduced tougher laws which can result in a convicted rapist being jailed for up to twenty years. - RT.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: Precursors To A Global Financial Collapse - Dow Jones Loses Nearly 300 POINTS On China Fears; S&P 500, Nasdaq Mark Worst Start To A Year Since 2001; China Halts Trading For The FIRST TIME EVER!

Courtesy Everett Collection

January 4, 2016 - GLOBAL ECONOMY - Talk about a scary start to 2016.

Fears of a crash landing in China's economy sent stocks diving around the world on Monday, the first trading day of the year. The global selloff was caused by a new report that showed China's manufacturing sector contracted at the end of 2015. Stocks in China fell so dramatically that trading was halted for the first time ever.

The Dow declined as many as 467 points and briefly fell below the 17,000 level for the first time since October. However, it bounced off the lows and ended the day down 276 points. It was still the Dow's worst opening day of the year since 2008.

The S&P 500 lost 1.5% and the Nasdaq dropped 2.1%.

"It seems like fear woke up early in 2016 and hope is basically sleeping in," said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Funds.

The retreat comes after the index fell 2% in 2014, its worst year since the 2008 financial crisis.

Monday's wave of selling began in Asia. Trading in China was stopped prematurely after circuit breakers were triggered during their first day they were implemented. Circuit breakers act as a kind of emergency brake to halt trading during times of extreme volatility.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite plummeted nearly 7%. The Shenzhen Composite, often compared to America's Nasdaq index because it's home to many tech companies, nosedived more than 8%.

The selloff was fueled by a new manufacturing survey by Caixin that fell to 48.2 in December following two months of stabilization. It marks the 10th month in a row of sub-50 readings, which indicate deceleration.

Even though the manufacturing report was disappointing, it's just the latest sign of a slowdown in China. Analysts said selling in Chinese markets was also driven by other factors, including the scheduled lifting of bans on IPOs and sales by larger investors.

"With headwinds both domestic and external, investors feared a hard landing may be inevitable and rushed to the exits," Emma Dinsmore, CEO of R-Squared Macro Management, wrote in a client note.

JPMorgan's Kelly thinks Monday's crash in China was caused by fears about the introduction of the circuit breakers. He compared the trading halts to a bank saying only the first 10,000 customers will be served.

"Everybody wants their money before it shuts," Kelly said.

The latest evidence of trouble in the American manufacturing sector didn't help Wall Street either. The ISM manufacturing index fell to 48.2 in December, the lowest reading since June 2009 when the Great Recession ended. Manufacturing continues to be hurt by the strong U.S. dollar, which makes American goods more expensive for overseas buyers. 

Global markets are also growing nervous over the dramatic increase in tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the big oil-producing power players in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran after its embassy in Tehran was attacked. The violence follows Saudi Arabia's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

The Middle East tensions are already causing turbulence in the oil markets. Crude oil prices initially spiked more than 3% and returned above $38 a barrel but then retreated. Oil closed down almost 1% to $36.76 a barrel.

CNNMoney's Fear & Greed Index, which looks at seven measures of investor sentiment, dipped into "fear" territory on Monday.

Even Netflix (NFLX, Tech30), the star performer of 2015, took a tumble on Monday. Shares of Netflix plunged as much as 8% after the streaming site was downgraded by analysts at Robert W. Baird due to concerns about U.S. subscriber growth. Netflix closed down nearly 4%. Similarly, Amazon (AMZN, Tech30), another big winner last year, fell sharply on a separate analyst downgrade.

Not everything fell on Monday though. Gold jumped 1.4% to $1,075 an ounce thanks to the market scare and geopolitical concerns.

The rough start to 2016 could be a bad omen for Wall Street, which has an old saying: "As January goes, so goes the year."

U.S. stocks have finished the year in the same direction as January 72% of the time, according to Howard Silverblatt of S&P Dow Jones Indexes. - CNN Money.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Powerful 6.7 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes India - Kills 9 People; Up To 200 Injured! [MAPS + PHOTOS + TECTONIC SUMMARY]

USGS earthquake location.

January 4, 2016 - INDIA - At least nine have been killed and close to 200 injured after a powerful 6.7-magnitude earthquake hit the eastern Indian state of Manipur, close to the border with Myanmar, according to initial reportes coming from the region.

The quake was 55 kilometers (34 miles) deep and centered 29 kilometers west of Imphal, the capital city of the Manipur state, the US Geological Survey has reported. The USGS later revised the quake’s magnitude down from 6.8 to 6.7.

India’s ANI agency first reported that at least six people had been killed in Manipur.

USGS earthquake location.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's office has been tweeting updates on his meetings with officials, adding that he is closely monitoring the situation in the north-east.

In Imphal, at least four people have been killed and another 100 injured by falling debris, AP quoted local police as saying.

USGS shakemap intensity.

Tremors were also felt in the states of West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh, as well as in neighboring Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar.

Imphal has a population of over 400,000 people, while the state of Manipur is home to 2,570,390 people.

The city’s residents have been tweeting out photos showing structural damage, including rubble and partially destroyed walls.

A lot of the destruction is concentrated in Ima Keithel, a local women’s market.

In Dhaka, the capital of Banghladesh, many on the city’s 7-million residents were awoken at night by what they described as one of the strongest tremors they had ever felt. - RT.

WATCH: Major damage after 6.7 quake hits Imphal, India.

Tectonic Summary

The January 3, 2016 M 6.7 earthquake near Imphal, India occurred as the result of strike slip faulting in the complex plate boundary region between India and the Eurasia plate in southeast Asia. Focal mechanisms for the event indicate slip occurred on either a right-lateral fault plane dipping moderately to the east-northeast, or on a left-lateral fault dipping steeply to the south-southeast. In the region of the earthquake, the India plate is moving towards the north-northeast with respect to Eurasia at a velocity of approximately 48 mm/yr; the regional plate boundary in eastern India – the Indo-Burmese Arc - is oriented approximately south-southwest-north-northeast.

The tectonics of southeast Asia are broadly dominated by the collision of the Indian subcontinent with Eurasia, which causes uplift that produces the highest mountain peaks in the world, including the Himalayan, the Karakoram, the Pamir and the Hindu Kush ranges. In northeast India, the ~east-west oriented Himalayan Front takes a southward turn towards Burma (Myanmar), and plate boundary deformation is more broadly distributed over a series of reverse and strike-slip structures in the Indo-Burmese Arc system, including the Sagaing, Kabaw and Dauki faults. The January 3, 2016 earthquake occurred in this region of broad deformation, at a depth of close to 50 km within the lithosphere of the India plate. The causative fault is unknown, but is broadly related to this plate boundary deformation. Farther south, plate motions are accommodated by northeast-oriented subduction of the India plate beneath the Sunda plate and the Burmese Arc.

Moderate-to-large earthquakes in this region are fairly common; 19 other M 6+ earthquakes have occurred within 250 km of the 2016 event over the preceding century. The largest was a M 8.0 earthquake in 1946, 220 km to the southeast of the 2016 earthquake on the Sagaing Fault. Other nearby damaging events include a M 7.3 earthquake 150 km to the east of the 2016 event in August 1988, which caused several fatalities and dozens of injuries, and a M 6.0 earthquake 90 km to the southwest in December 1984 that caused 20 fatalities and 100 injuries.

USGS plate tectonics for the region.

Seismotectonics of the Himalaya and Vicinity

Seismicity in the Himalaya dominantly results from the continental collision of the India and Eurasia plates, which are converging at a relative rate of 40-50 mm/yr. Northward underthrusting of India beneath Eurasia generates numerous earthquakes and consequently makes this area one of the most seismically hazardous regions on Earth. The surface expression of the plate boundary is marked by the foothills of the north-south trending Sulaiman Range in the west, the Indo-Burmese Arc in the east and the east-west trending Himalaya Front in the north of India.

The India-Eurasia plate boundary is a diffuse boundary, which in the region near the north of India, lies within the limits of the Indus-Tsangpo (also called the Yarlung-Zangbo) Suture to the north and the Main Frontal Thrust to the south. The Indus-Tsangpo Suture Zone is located roughly 200 km north of the Himalaya Front and is defined by an exposed ophiolite chain along its southern margin. The narrow (less than 200km) Himalaya Front includes numerous east-west trending, parallel structures. This region has the highest rates of seismicity and largest earthquakes in the Himalaya region, caused mainly by movement on thrust faults. Examples of significant earthquakes, in this densely populated region, caused by reverse slip movement include the 1934 M8.1 Bihar, the 1905 M7.5 Kangra and the 2005 M7.6 Kashmir earthquakes. The latter two resulted in the highest death tolls for Himalaya earthquakes seen to date, together killing over 100,000 people and leaving millions homeless. The largest instrumentally recorded Himalaya earthquake occurred on 15th August 1950 in Assam, eastern India. This M8.6 right-lateral, strike-slip, earthquake was widely felt over a broad area of central Asia, causing extensive damage to villages in the epicentral region.

The Tibetan Plateau is situated north of the Himalaya, stretching approximately 1000km north-south and 2500km east-west, and is geologically and tectonically complex with several sutures which are hundreds of kilometer-long and generally trend east-west. The Tibetan Plateau is cut by a number of large (greater than 1000km) east-west trending, left-lateral, strike-slip faults, including the long Kunlun, Haiyuan, and the Altyn Tagh. Right-lateral, strike-slip faults (comparable in size to the left-lateral faults), in this region include the Karakorum, Red River, and Sagaing. Secondary north-south trending normal faults also cut the Tibetan Plateau. Thrust faults are found towards the north and south of the Tibetan Plateau. Collectively, these faults accommodate crustal shortening associated with the ongoing collision of the India and Eurasia plates, with thrust faults accommodating north south compression, and normal and strike-slip accommodating east-west extension.

Along the western margin of the Tibetan Plateau, in the vicinity of south-eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan, the India plate translates obliquely relative to the Eurasia plate, resulting in a complex fold-and-thrust belt known as the Sulaiman Range. Faulting in this region includes strike-slip, reverse-slip and oblique-slip motion and often results in shallow, destructive earthquakes. The active, left-lateral, strike-slip Chaman fault is the fastest moving fault in the region. In 1505, a segment of the Chaman fault near Kabul, Afghanistan, ruptured causing widespread destruction. In the same region the more recent 30 May 1935, M7.6 Quetta earthquake, which occurred in the Sulaiman Range in Pakistan, killed between 30,000 and 60,000 people.

On the north-western side of the Tibetan Plateau, beneath the Pamir-Hindu Kush Mountains of northern Afghanistan, earthquakes occur at depths as great as 200 km as a result of remnant lithospheric subduction. The curved arc of deep earthquakes found in the Hindu Kush Pamir region indicates the presence of a lithospheric body at depth, thought to be remnants of a subducting slab. Cross-sections through the Hindu Kush region suggest a near vertical northerly-dipping subducting slab, whereas cross-sections through the nearby Pamir region to the east indicate a much shallower dipping, southerly subducting slab. Some models suggest the presence of two subduction zones; with the Indian plate being subducted beneath the Hindu Kush region and the Eurasian plate being subducted beneath the Pamir region. However, other models suggest that just one of the two plates is being subducted and that the slab has become contorted and overturned in places.

Shallow crustal earthquakes also occur in this region near the Main Pamir Thrust and other active Quaternary faults. The Main Pamir Thrust, north of the Pamir Mountains, is an active shortening structure. The northern portion of the Main Pamir Thrust produces many shallow earthquakes, whereas its western and eastern borders display a combination of thrust and strike-slip mechanisms. On the 18 February 1911, the M7.4 Sarez earthquake ruptured in the Central Pamir Mountains, killing numerous people and triggering a landside, which blocked the Murghab River.

Further north, the Tian Shan is a seismically active intra-continental mountain belt, which extends 2500 km in an ENE-WNW orientation north of the Tarim Basin. This belt is defined by numerous east-west trending thrust faults, creating a compressional basin and range landscape. It is generally thought that regional stresses associated with the collision of the India and Eurasia plates are responsible for faulting in the region. The region has had three major earthquakes (greater than M7.6) at the start of the 20th Century, including the 1902 Atushi earthquake, which killed an estimated 5,000 people. The range is cut through in the west by the 700-km-long, northwest-southeast striking, Talas-Ferghana active right-lateral, strike-slip fault system. Though the system has produced no major earthquakes in the last 250 years, paleo-seismic studies indicate that it has the potential to produce M7.0+ earthquakes and it is thought to represent a significant hazard.

The northern portion of the Tibetan Plateau itself is largely dominated by the motion on three large left-lateral, strike-slip fault systems; the Altyn Tagh, Kunlun and Haiyuan. The Altyn Tagh fault is the longest of these strike slip faults and it is thought to accommodate a significant portion of plate convergence. However, this system has not experienced significant historical earthquakes, though paleoseismic studies show evidence of prehistoric M7.0-8.0 events. Thrust faults link with the Altyn Tagh at its eastern and western termini. The Kunlun Fault, south of the Altyn Tagh, is seismically active, producing large earthquakes such as the 8th November 1997, M7.6 Manyi earthquake and the 14th November 2001, M7.8 Kokoxili earthquake. The Haiyuan Fault, in the far north-east, generated the 16 December 1920, M7.8 earthquake that killed approximately 200,000 people and the 22 May 1927 M7.6 earthquake that killed 40,912.

The Longmen Shan thrust belt, along the eastern margin of the Tibetan Plateau, is an important structural feature and forms a transitional zone between the complexly deformed Songpan-Garze Fold Belt and the relatively undeformed Sichuan Basin. On 12 May 2008, the thrust belt produced the reverse slip, M7.9 Wenchuan earthquake, killing over 87,000 people and causing billions of US dollars in damages and landslides which dammed several rivers and lakes.

Southeast of the Tibetan Plateau are the right-lateral, strike-slip Red River and the left-lateral, strike-slip Xiangshuihe-Xiaojiang fault systems. The Red River Fault experienced large scale, left-lateral ductile shear during the Tertiary period before changing to its present day right-lateral slip rate of approximately 5 mm/yr. This fault has produced several earthquakes greater than M6.0 including the 4 January 1970, M7.5 earthquake in Tonghai which killed over 10,000 people. Since the start of the 20th century, the Xiangshuihe-Xiaojiang Fault system has generated several M7.0+ earthquakes including the M7.5 Luhuo earthquake which ruptured on the 22 April 1973. Some studies suggest that due to the high slip rate on this fault, future large earthquakes are highly possible along the 65km stretch between Daofu and Qianning and the 135km stretch that runs through Kangding.

Shallow earthquakes within the Indo-Burmese Arc, predominantly occur on a combination of strike-slip and reverse faults, including the Sagaing, Kabaw and Dauki faults. Between 1930 and 1956, six M7.0+ earthquakes occurred near the right-lateral Sagaing Fault, resulting in severe damage in Myanmar including the generation of landslides, liquefaction and the loss of 610 lives. Deep earthquakes (200km) have also been known to occur in this region, these are thought to be due to the subduction of the eastwards dipping, India plate, though whether subduction is currently active is debated. Within the pre-instrumental period, the large Shillong earthquake occurred on the 12 June 1897, causing widespread destruction.

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Earthquake Summary Poster

MONUMENTAL DELUGE: Waterworld - Drone Footage Captures Historic Missouri Flooding And Damage; At Least 31 People Killed; Emergency Weather Warnings In 16 States; Governor Nixon Says It's "Almost As If You Are Living On Some Other Planet"; President Obama Signs Emergency Declaration!

© Oral R Friend / YouTube

January 4, 2016 - MISSOURI, UNITED STATES - A massive cleanup is underway in the US Midwest after three Missouri rivers reached levels not seen in winter since the times when Mark Twain was rafting the river as a teenager.

Sixteen states in total issued emergency weather warnings as mass flooding in the region claimed the lives of at least 31 people.

Heavy rainfall at the end of December, the worst since May 2011, caused the Mississippi, Meramec, and Missouri rivers to burst their banks.

"Flooding on the middle portion of the Mississippi River and some of its tributaries reached levels not seen during the winter months since records began during the middle 1800s," reported Accuweather.

The Mississippi River was 40 feet (13 meters) over the flood mark at one stage, while 17 million people faced imminent danger.

US President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration, allowing federal aid to be used in the clean-up operations.

Visiting the affected-communities of Eureka and Cape Girardeau on Sunday, Missouri governor Jay Nixon described the damage as "almost as if you are living on some other planet."

Cape Girardeau resident Oral R Friend captured footage of some of the devastation from the air with a drone.

WATCH: Drone footage of Missouri floods.

The strangely-serene clips of the mighty Miss show marooned homes in what look like scenes from a Hollywood disaster movie.

"Cloudy, cold and the waters are rising," Friend posted on Facebook. "I put it together rather quickly, but it should help give a view of some of the areas around Cape that are feeling the effects of the water." In one video taken on New Year's Day, vehicles can be seen abandoned in parking lots and a quarry is swamped by the historic rainfall.

According to Reuters, most of the 31 people killed during the disaster in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas had been out driving. - RT.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Strong Magnitude 5.1 Earthquake Shakes Lower North Island, New Zealand- Geonet! [MAPS + TECTONIC SUMMARY]

The earthquake was felt throughout the North Island. © Keith Lynch (CPL)

January 4, 2016 - NEW ZEALAND - An "short, sharp shake" has been felt throughout the lower North Island, with a lighter earthquake coming two hours later.

Geonet received reports from 865 people that had felt the 5.1 magnitude quake with reports from people who have felt it, from as far as Ohakune and Hawera.

The quake was centred 25 kilometres east of Pongaroa, in the Tararua district, at a depth of 25km, hitting at 1.07pm.

Bit of a shudder here at Paekakariki - est 20 seconds duration #eqnz
— Jesse Easton (@jesterabi) January 4, 2016

Tararua District councillor Shirley Hull was at her Pahiatua home with family when she felt the quake hit.

She said Pongaroa's "short, sharp shake" left their light swaying.

"They seem to be getting a few these days... [we have] just got to make sure that everybody's OK."

Nasty lunchtime shake here in Palmerston North. #eqnz
— Gerry le Roux (@GerryleRoux) January 4, 2016

Natalie Raynel said she felt a similar shake in Dannevirke, but it was "not too bad".

Folker Liebenow, who lives between Waipukurau and Hastings, said he felt the quake but there was no damage.

He said they felt every one of the quakes that hit Pongaroa, and by those standards it was "moderately strong".

Geonet classified the earthquake as 'strong'.

The second earthquake hit 40km east of Pongaroa, with an intensity of 4.1 magnitude, at 3.10pm.

With a depth of 35km, the earthquake was classified as 'light'. - Stuff.

Seismotectonics of the Eastern Margin of the Australia Plate

The eastern margin of the Australia plate is one of the most sesimically active areas of the world due to high rates of convergence between the Australia and Pacific plates. In the region of New Zealand, the 3000 km long Australia-Pacific plate boundary extends from south of Macquarie Island to the southern Kermadec Island chain. It includes an oceanic transform (the Macquarie Ridge), two oppositely verging subduction zones (Puysegur and Hikurangi), and a transpressive continental transform, the Alpine Fault through South Island, New Zealand.

Since 1900 there have been 15 M7.5+ earthquakes recorded near New Zealand. Nine of these, and the four largest, occurred along or near the Macquarie Ridge, including the 1989 M8.2 event on the ridge itself, and the 2004 M8.1 event 200 km to the west of the plate boundary, reflecting intraplate deformation. The largest recorded earthquake in New Zealand itself was the 1931 M7.8 Hawke's Bay earthquake, which killed 256 people. The last M7.5+ earthquake along the Alpine Fault was 170 years ago; studies of the faults' strain accumulation suggest that similar events are likely to occur again.

USGS plate tectonics for the region.

North of New Zealand, the Australia-Pacific boundary stretches east of Tonga and Fiji to 250 km south of Samoa. For 2,200 km the trench is approximately linear, and includes two segments where old (greater than 120 Myr) Pacific oceanic lithosphere rapidly subducts westward (Kermadec and Tonga). At the northern end of the Tonga trench, the boundary curves sharply westward and changes along a 700 km-long segment from trench-normal subduction, to oblique subduction, to a left lateral transform-like structure.

Australia-Pacific convergence rates increase northward from 60 mm/yr at the southern Kermadec trench to 90 mm/yr at the northern Tonga trench; however, significant back arc extension (or equivalently, slab rollback) causes the consumption rate of subducting Pacific lithosphere to be much faster. The spreading rate in the Havre trough, west of the Kermadec trench, increases northward from 8 to 20 mm/yr. The southern tip of this spreading center is propagating into the North Island of New Zealand, rifting it apart. In the southern Lau Basin, west of the Tonga trench, the spreading rate increases northward from 60 to 90 mm/yr, and in the northern Lau Basin, multiple spreading centers result in an extension rate as high as 160 mm/yr. The overall subduction velocity of the Pacific plate is the vector sum of Australia-Pacific velocity and back arc spreading velocity: thus it increases northward along the Kermadec trench from 70 to 100 mm/yr, and along the Tonga trench from 150 to 240 mm/yr.

The Kermadec-Tonga subduction zone generates many large earthquakes on the interface between the descending Pacific and overriding Australia plates, within the two plates themselves and, less frequently, near the outer rise of the Pacific plate east of the trench. Since 1900, 40 M7.5+ earthquakes have been recorded, mostly north of 30°S. However, it is unclear whether any of the few historic M8+ events that have occurred close to the plate boundary were underthrusting events on the plate interface, or were intraplate earthquakes. On September 29, 2009, one of the largest normal fault (outer rise) earthquakes ever recorded (M8.1) occurred south of Samoa, 40 km east of the Tonga trench, generating a tsunami that killed at least 180 people.

Across the North Fiji Basin and to the west of the Vanuatu Islands, the Australia plate again subducts eastwards beneath the Pacific, at the North New Hebrides trench. At the southern end of this trench, east of the Loyalty Islands, the plate boundary curves east into an oceanic transform-like structure analogous to the one north of Tonga.

Australia-Pacific convergence rates increase northward from 80 to 90 mm/yr along the North New Hebrides trench, but the Australia plate consumption rate is increased by extension in the back arc and in the North Fiji Basin. Back arc spreading occurs at a rate of 50 mm/yr along most of the subduction zone, except near ~15°S, where the D'Entrecasteaux ridge intersects the trench and causes localized compression of 50 mm/yr in the back arc. Therefore, the Australia plate subduction velocity ranges from 120 mm/yr at the southern end of the North New Hebrides trench, to 40 mm/yr at the D'Entrecasteaux ridge-trench intersection, to 170 mm/yr at the northern end of the trench.

Large earthquakes are common along the North New Hebrides trench and have mechanisms associated with subduction tectonics, though occasional strike slip earthquakes occur near the subduction of the D'Entrecasteaux ridge. Within the subduction zone 34 M7.5+ earthquakes have been recorded since 1900. On October 7, 2009, a large interplate thrust fault earthquake (M7.6) in the northern North New Hebrides subduction zone was followed 15 minutes later by an even larger interplate event (M7.8) 60 km to the north. It is likely that the first event triggered the second of the so-called earthquake "doublet".

More information on regional seismicity and tectonics


INFRASTRUCTURE COLLAPSE: Suspected Gas Explosion In Oklahoma Completely Destroys House, Damage 50 Nearby Homes; Could Be Heard Miles Away! [VIDEO]

The powerful explosion near 122nd and Rockwell has completely destroyed at least one home, and could be heard miles away.

January 4, 2016 - OKLAHOMA, UNITED STATES - An explosion near 122nd and Rockwell has destroyed at least one home, and someone was inside the house at the time.

The Oklahoma City Fire Department said just after 3:15 a.m., they responded to a reported explosion at 12409 Whispering Hollow Drive.

"We've had reports when this came in that people felt it more than two miles away. So it was a significant explosion," OCFD Chief Benny Fulkerson said Saturday morning.

Authorities say an ONG crew was working on a gas meter when it caught fire. Crew members were about to evacuate the homeowner when the house exploded. The home has been completely destroyed.

The homeowner told first responders he was blown out of bed. He suffered injuries and burns, and has been transported to a local hospital.

Two others in the area were also transported to the hospital for breathing problems. No word yet on their condition.

OKCFD evacuated eight homes with a total of 24 people.

WATCH: House explodes in Oklahoma.

"We searched many of the houses in the immediate area to make sure everybody was ok," Fulkerson said. "Everybody was and everybody was accounted for."

Two homes adjacent to the original explosion have extensive damage. And numerous homes in the area have soffit hanging, holes in the portions of the exterior, and garage doors pushed in. Vehicles in the street are reported to have glass damage.

"I got some windows busted out. The doors look like they've been kicked in, garage door," Neighbor Michael Palmer said. "Everything that was in the attic above the garage is now on the garage floor."

Palmer lives across the street from the now destroyed house. He said it wasn't the blast that woke him, but his pictures being knocked off the walls. Palmer said he rushed to what was left of a broken window and saw his neighbor's house burning.

Neighbors claimed they smelled gas on Friday and ONG crews had been checking for the source. News 9 reached out to ONG but had not received a response to back up those claims. - News9.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVALS: Massive Sinkhole Appears In Laudium, South Africa!

Sinkhole Laudium, South Africa. © Abramjee / Twitter

January 4, 2016 - SOUTH AFRICA - A massive sinkhole appeared in Second Avenue, Laudium following an alleged pipe burst.

Tshwane metro closed off Second Avenue in Laudium after a part of the road reportedly sunk.

WATCH: Massive sinkhole in Laudium.

A bystander contacted Rekord to say that a water pipe that had burst was allegedly the cause of the ground giving way.
"The metro is on the scene and will apparently cut power to the area to start with repairs," the bystander, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.
The bystander also reported that a cellphone tower had been damaged after it collapsed into sinkhole. - Pretoria East Rekord.