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Strange Days: Strange Deaths


Tree Fells Man

When the plant kingdom gets its own back

strange deaths - palm tree


A 50-year-old man was killed on 3 December while cutting down a large foxtail palm tree in his garden at Knuckey Lagoon near Darwin in Australia. The tree came crashing down, striking him in the face. Another freak accident killed a 45-year-old man from Ludmilla, Northern Territory, on 17 December 2006. He had been cutting down 8m (26ft) Carp­entaria palms in his yard when a branch fell on overhead power lines. He was apparently electrocuted when he touched the power line while trying to remove the branch. ntnews.com, 8 Dec 2010.

A five-year study has blamed an innocuous-looking mushroom known as Little White for many mysterious deaths in south-western China. No one knew what caused Yunnan Sudden Death Syndrome, blamed for an estim­ated 400 deaths in the past three decades. However, an investigative team from China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that Little White is responsible for the baffling condition, which strikes remote villages in the rural highlands of Yunnan province every summer.
More than 90 per cent of the deaths occurred in the rainy season (June to August), and at an altitude of 5,900–7,900ft (1,800–2,400m). “We heard amazing stories about how people would drop dead in the middle of a convers­ation,” said Zhang Shu, a cardiologist who took part in the CDC study. “About two-thirds of victims, in the hours before death, experienced symptoms such as heart palpitation, nausea, dizziness, seizures and fatigue.”
The investigation was initially hampered by language barriers and the remote location of the villages. However, in 2008, the scientists noted that the Little White mushroom was often found in the homes of the people who died. Yunnan province is well known for its wild mushrooms, many of which are exported at high prices. Families, who make their living by collecting and selling fungi, eat the Little White as it has no commercial value – it is too small and turns brown shortly after being picked. The mushroom belongs to the Trogia genus and has three toxic amino acids (which are not used in proteins); the scientists conjectured that these became lethal when consumed with barium, a heavy metal found in high concentrations in the local water supply. A campaign to warn people against eating the tiny mushrooms has dramatic­ally reduced the number of deaths. [AP] BBC News, 14 July 2010.

Six Japanese people choked to death and five others were in a serious condition after eating traditional mochi rice cakes to celebrate the New Year. The victims, all from Tokyo and aged over 70, died of suffocation after eating the glutinous delicacy. During New Year, one of Japan’s biggest holidays, families traditionally cook ozouni soup and put sticky rice cakes in the broth, which regularly cause fatal­ities – for instance, three pensioners choked to death during the festivities in January 2007. D.Record, 3 Jan 2007; (Sydney) D.Telegraph, 4 Jan 2011.

A new mother who died seconds after giving birth was suffering from a con­dition so rare none of her doctors had encountered it before. Julie Walsh, 28, died having suffered an amniotic fluid embolism, in which fluid surrounding her son in the womb entered her blood stream and caused an allergic react­ion. D.Telegraph, 4 Nov 2010.

An Indian mystic allegedly kidnapped, beheaded and drank the blood of a toddler in a bid to obtain supernatural powers. Abdul Gafoor, 31, told police he was instructed to do this in a dream. He abducted the 18-month-old boy from a Sufi shrine, where the child’s widowed mother was staying in Madurai, an ancient city near the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. Gafoor and his female associate, Ramala Beevi, 28, then took the child to a lodge in a nearby city, where Gafoor cut his throat. MX News (Sydney), 26 July 2010.

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