Monday, September 26, 2005



By Elaine Meinel Supkis

Peru just had a big earthquake last night, 7.5, at 84 km deep. As usual before a great quake, the rattling of the earth was still for 24 hours. It is like it takes a deep breath and then lets go with a loud yell.

A few villagers died when their houses collapsed but it was 450 miles from any large population centers so the damage was slight and the Andes grew a tad taller. The interesting thing here is, this is another warning sign for the West Coast. I learned yesterday that Los Angeles doesn't have even vague evacuation/emergency plans in the case of a great quake. As I have pointed out, my grandfather for many years said that the danger to LA is the precious water supply being cut off if the San Andreas which bisects all water delivery systems, jerks north violently.

His favorite saying was, "LA is one toilet tank away from dying of thirst." Now we sell water in stores but when there is no water for anything, evacuating the populace would be crucial and like all the coastal cities, a nightmare since everyone has to move in one direction: inland and in LA's case, a San Andreas event will do what no hurricane does before it hits: cut the highways. If key overpasses fail, this means little to no traffic can pass. Unlike the Great Quake in San Francisco, people walking away from the ruined city and being picked up at the edges and removed, in LA's case, everyone will get into their cars and take off creating immense havoc and snarling all possible movements. Houston illustrated this well. If roads are broken around a city as any great earthquake will inevitably do, getting in water and fuel becomes nearly impossible except by sea and any disruptions to the sea port will be a problem, worse, if there is a dual quake, and this is quite possible, and all the auxillary fault lines intersecting the San Andreas are sufficiently disturbed a la Indonesia with 2000 quakes this year, then driving from the port to any of the zillion dense neighborhoods to deliver food, water and aid will be a nightmare. We don't have enough ships and trucks and boots on the ground to service 15 million people.

Japan doesn't have nearly so bad a problem simply because the water delivery systems are much shorter and more local and don't cross a major fault line and also they have far fewer cars per capita to clog the roads and as we see in Houston, the cars a much smaller, the hulking monsters we favor are a menace to any evacuation. And more: the Japanese are resigned to dying in Kami-inspired events. From Godzilla/America annihilating Tokyo in fire and shaking, that city is destroyed and reborn regularily. The culture has this deeply embedded in the psyche of the Japanese people and it pervades their culture on many levels. Our destruction movies and stories usually if not always features humans successfully saving the city or each other or whatever from destruction but theirs is, even in little children's cartoons, all about possible annihilation of not only Tokyo but all living things! One anime being watched this season in Japan has the whole world but for the highest mountains under water and the subs dart in and out of the ruins of Tokyo and Paris and NYC.

Imagining destruction helps one prepare for it. Our defense people who get a fortune to do this, do all sorts of studies and games to deal with possible scenarios. Indeed, on 9/11/1, they were conducting such an exercise imagining that jets were being hijacked and used to attack...when it happened. Of course, that is a whole different kettle of destructive fishes! We aren't supposed to think about this and the 9/11 Commission decided to glide over it, too. Don't look back, as Jimmy Carter said recently.

Disruption of services multiplies problems the larger the community. My town of Berlin, NY can empty out in minutes and we can go 50 miles in less than an hour. But large conglamorations are a different matter. Unwieldy cities in geographically restricted areas are a particular problem. LA is a fine example, hemmed in by high mountains, deep ocean, a trap. Beyond the city itself are a zillion suburbs that tangle it up further. NYC is a classic cul de sac that is literally impossible to evacuate. It is a series of islands surrounded by a dense community, the Trisate region holds many millions of people, it is the densest population in America. Manhattan has two tunnels and one bridge to New Jersey and one two to the Bronx which is on the continent. This week, the mayor said they will use public transportation to move everyone out in an emergency.

Hahaha. On a normal day, using the tunnels and bridges into NYC is a slow crawl. Years ago, when they closed three bridges accidentally simultaneously for road repairs one day, the traffic snarl stopped all vehicles in much of Manhattan and west Brooklyn extending for miles. I remember because nothing was moving in my neighborhood two miles from the Brooklyn Bridge.

Public transportation out of the city is only planes, buses using the two tunnels and George Washington Bridge and Amtrak. That's it. And someone is planning to move a million Manhattanites with these frail few transportation items? And Brooklyn. The only ways west to the continent are the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Verrazzano bridges and one tunnel...into Manhattan. So, half of Brooklyn will head into..Manhattan! Another million+. Queens has to pour into Manhattan or Conneticutt via two bridges. Then there is all of Long Island that has to use the same bridges. All this is another 3+ million people. Unimaginable.

This is why the nuclear reactor was closed down. Officially, there is no possible evacuation plan for New York City and Long Isand. The Long Island Expressway is called the world's biggest parking lot...on normal days.

Luckily, the chances of earthquakes in NYC is minimal. But SF and LA in California, inevitable. And preparing for the inevitable is vital, not optional. Of course, one can take the position that the people are doomed there and simply watch it unfold. Maybe this is what we all want to do, deep inside. Be entertained.

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