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When Mother Nature Attacks

By Richard Morin
Sunday, January 16, 2005; Page B05

Tsunamis in South Asia, mudslides in Southern California and blizzards in the upper Midwest -- suddenly, even a glance at the headlines or the evening news might be enough to convince us that Mother Nature has gone on a rampage.

Yes, it's a forbidding world out there. But we can take some comfort if we remember that natural disasters are rare and the chance that any one of us will perish in a tidal wave, hurricane, earthquake or other natural calamity is very, very low -- even though studies conducted over the past 25 years consistently have found that most people believe the odds are very, very high.

In fact, statistically speaking, a person is more likely to die by falling from a tall building, slipping in the bathtub or being legally executed than to perish in an earthquake, flood or "cataclysmic storm" such as a hurricane, according to the latest estimates by the National Safety Council derived from 2001 data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The overall chance that an individual born in 2001 will die from any "force of nature" is estimated to be 1 in 3,357. That's considerably lower than the probability of dying from various types of accidents, and much smaller than the odds that an individual will commit suicide or die from complications from surgical or medical care.

Here are the lifetime odds of succumbing to various natural calamities:

Exposure to excessive natural cold... 1 in 6,165

Exposure to excessive natural heat... 1 in 12,310

Cataclysmic storm... 1 in 68,388

Lightning... 1 in 83,930

Flood... 1 in 105, 512

Earthquake... 1 in 131,890

Exposure to all other unspecified forces

of nature... 1 in 92,323

And here are the lifetime odds of expiring from some specific causes of death, based on official tallies:

Suicide... 1 in 121

Car accident... 1 in 247

Pedestrian accident... 1 in 608

Complications from medical or surgical care...1 in 1,222

Riding a bike... 1 in 4,663

Falling from a ladder or scaffold... 1 in 8,412

Legal execution... 1 in 58,618

Being buried alive in a cave-in or landslide... 1 in 65,945

Dog bite... 1 in 147,717

Fireworks accident... 1 in 615,488
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