Power of nature in full force: A week of natural disasters

A series of natural disasters that have struck around the world over the past week provide a strong reminder of the unrivaled power of the four elements.

The ancient Greeks believed there were four elements – fire, air, water and earth.

By these, everything in the natural world was determined.

They also gave us the word elemental, which can be defined as something that has the power of nature.

Science has long since refined the number of elements, but nature’s elementary forces readily remind us of its power.

The past seven days have shown nature at its most elemental, and in the most classical sense.

In Saudi Arabia, strong winds and a storm contributed to the toppling of a construction crane at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca. It killed at least 107 people, mostly pilgrims.

Half a world away, California declared a state of emergency as forest fires raged across more than 40,000 hectares in the north of the Golden State, destroying at least 400 homes.

More than 23,000 people were moved from their homes in conditions made worse by four years of extreme drought.

More forest fires encircled the Ecuadorean capital Quito this week, killing three firefighters and enveloping the city in smoke.

Flooding forced about 2.8 million people to leave their homes in central Japan. Several weeks of heavy rain had caused several rivers to break their banks, with floodwaters strong enough to carry off entire houses.

In the US state of Utah, flash floods caused the deaths of at least 18 people, the result of heavy rains that sent a wall of water into the homes of 7,700 people, including members of a polygamous sect.

An 8.3-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Chile led to a tsunami warning across the Pacific, with 4.5-metre waves causing floods. Buildings swayed as the earth shook in the city of Valparaiso.

And in Russia, footage shot by drone showed the extent of a vast sinkhole that has opened near Solikamsk.

The crater first appeared in November, possibly as the result of water in underground workings. From 30 metres, it has grown to 125 metres, with the earth continuing to crumble as it swallows more houses with no sign of stopping.

Earth, water, fire and air. Perhaps the ancients were on to something after all.