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A year of epic disasters, terrorism and politics readers rank the top stories of 2005

By Ann O'Neill

Hurricane Katrina breached levees, leaving 80 percent of New Orleans under water.


(CNN) -- Natural disasters, terrorism and politics drove the top stories of 2005, according to an unscientific poll of readers.

Readers were asked to reflect on the year's events and choose from a selection of top stories.

The aftermaths of Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean tsunami and South Asian earthquake were ranked alongside politics and scandals at home and abroad, the deaths of a chief justice and a pope, Martha Stewart and Michael Jackson's brand of celebrity justice and a British royal wedding.

By noon Saturday, more than 36,000 people had made their picks. (Make your choice for the top 10)

Many readers also e-mailed reflections on the events of the year. Stephanie, of St. John's, Newfoundland, called 2005 "the year of the roller coaster."

"The up and down approval rating for Bush (more down than up) and the relentless change in gas prices in Canada and the United States has made me queasy," she wrote. "Hopefully, 2006 will provide some relief for my stomach." (Read the e-mail)

Hurricane Katrina, one of the costliest and deadliest storms in U.S. history, was considered the top story of 2005. Levees failed after Katrina made landfall east of New Orleans in the morning of August 29. New Orleans was inundated with floodwaters and much of the Gulf Coast region was devastated.

More than 1,300 people died in four states. Katrina exposed inadequate preparation and a government whose response was tepid at best.

Katrina was just one storm in a record hurricane season that saw 27 named storms, surpassing the record of 21 set in 1933.

For some readers, Katrina was more than a story. LeeAnn, a community college teacher from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, called 2005 "a terrible year."

"Hurricane Katrina has ravaged our home," she wrote."We lost nearly 50 percent of our student body, piles of debris lie rotting on the sides of the streets and fill neighborhoods, families are still sleeping in tents, more people are sick than well due to the mold, mildew and rot. We lost centuries-old landmarks, industry, citizens and our beaches. It will take years to recover. This is a somber place to be." (More reader e-mails)

Tsunami, earthquakes

The Indian Ocean tsunami and the South Asian quakes also made a big impression with readers.

The December 26, 2004, tsunami, which followed a 9.1-magnitude quake, killed more than 200,000 people in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and many other countries. Entire towns and villages were swept away. Relief efforts continued throughout 2005.

Keniesha, of Kingston, Jamaica, recalled the tsunami as "one of the scariest natural events of all times."

In South Asia, more than 73,000 people died and tens of thousands more were injured when an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale struck Pakistan and other parts of the region in October. Thousands are homeless this winter and disease and exposure to the elements could claim more lives.

Terrorists took their toll

Terrorism is never far from readers' minds and they cited two attacks. On July 7, at the peak of London's morning rush hour, bombs exploded in three crowded subway trains and aboard a bus. Fifty-two people died, along with the four bombers, and 700 were injured. It was the deadliest attack in Britain since World War II.

Three suicide bombers set off nearly simultaneous explosions at hotels in downtown Amman, Jordan, killing 56 people and wounding scores of others. Al Qaeda in Iraq, the terror group led by the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility.

Politics, domestic and global

Politics, from the Middle East to the White House, also showed up among the top stories.

On January 20, President Bush took his second oath of office, outlining in his inaugural address a U.S. policy "with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." His approval rating plummeted throughout the year, however, as he faced rising energy prices and waning support for the war in Iraq.

"The year 2005 displayed the worst our elected officials have to offer," wrote reader Ray Ringerwole, of Hudsonville, Michigan. (More readers' e-mails)

"Politicians in Washington put their personal goals ahead of the country," he said. "I have not witnessed such self-promotion in my 55 years."

In Iraq, ink-stained fingers became a symbol of democracy as Iraqis went to the polls amid attacks and threats of violence. It was the first free election the country had seen in a half-century. In January, Iraqis elected a transitional National Assembly, then approved a constitution in October 15. Results still are being tallied after the December 15 parliamentary elections.

"The people of Iraq voted freely for the first time in years without retribution," observed Truman, of Bowling Green, Ohio.

"All in all, in spite of the minority of outsiders that called themselves insurgents, the people of Iraq started living and not just surviving," he wrote.

Elsewhere in the Mideast, Israel began a historic pullout from Gaza, at the stroke of midnight on August 14, ending 38 years of occupation. Most residents left peacefully, but there were high emotions and occasional violence.

Best and worst

The stories of two vastly different personalities reflected the best and the worst of humanity.

Pope John Paul II, the charismatic pontiff who led the world's 1 billion Catholics for 26 years, died April 2 at the age of 84. Weeks later, in a secret and formal conclave, cardinals elected Joseph Ratzinger of Germany as the 265th pontiff. He took the name Pope Benedict XVI.

Then there was Saddam Hussein. The trial of Hussein and seven co-defendants began October 19 in Baghdad,Iraq, and is set to resume in January after a short break. The defendants are charged with ordering the killings and torture of more than 140 Iraqis in Dujail in 1982. The trial has been punctuated by outbursts and grim testimony about imprisonment, torture and deaths.

For some readers, though, the big stories were more personal. Sam Young, of Chicago, Illinois, realized a childhood dream.

"I will remember 2005 as the year my dream came true," he wrote, "watching the White Sox storm through the playoffs and winning the World Series in true blue-collared fashion, ending an 88-year-drought."

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