I missed the memo about disasters.
So, what a week, right? Between the earthquakes in Colorado and Virgina and Hurricane Irene, it’s been pretty much non-stop disaster action. Even for folks like me who weren’t in line of fire, it was pretty exciting stuff.
I’ve lived in California for over ten years now and in that time, I’ve felt an earthquake or two. Nothing like Northridge, but enough shake a picture off the wall. Being 17 stories up when a quake strikes is a little weird, that’s for sure. And though the recent quake in Virginia resulted in mercifully little damage, you won’t hear me mocking the folks who were fairly overcome with anxiety. Even if the building doesn’t come down around your ears, when a building shakes, it is deeply disorienting and pretty terrifying. I may live in California the rest of my of life and I don’t think I’ll ever be “used” to earthquakes.
Before moving to California, I spent my formative years in Navy towns, and living on the coast in both Texas and Virginia, I’ve seen hurricane or two in my day. Hurricanes are pretty messed up, but theoretically, you have plenty of time to get out of their way. (That’s what made the loss of life from Katrina so freakin’ shameful; if the preparation and response machine had been firing on all cylinders, no way so many people would have died.)
My most memorable hurricane experience was Hurricane Allen, which struck the gulf coast of Texas in 1980. We lived on the Navy Base in Corpus Christi and when the Navy says there’s an evacuation order, it’s pretty much non-negotiable. We were herded into the base’s movie theatre, and it was all fun and games until the power went out. And there we stayed. With no electricity. For three days. I remember eating a lot of warm dill pickles and drinking a lot of canned pineapple juice, and to this day, neither is particularly appealing. Once power was restored to the chow hall, they bussed us refugees over for a hot meal. When I took that first bite of warm buttered toast, it was like manna from heaven. Usually, a hurricane won’t kill you, but it can strip you of your civilization pretty quickly and completely. And you really don’t realize how cozy life usually is, until it isn’t.
The one natural disaster that I haven’t experienced and hope I never do is a tornado. With an earthquake, you get no warning. With a hurricane, you get days to prepare. But with a tornado, you get maybe a couple of minutes. Psychologically, that’s rough. You see the sky turn yellow and gray, maybe you hear a siren, or emergency announcement on the radio or TV and you have to make some decisions. Fast. If you panic or dilly-dally, you could die. I don’t know how I’d cope with that kind of pressure.
So now that the worst seems to be over, at least for now, I’m reflecting on the lessons that emerge from all these natural disasters…
1. A roomful of Ph.Ds in meteorology and geology could talk ’til they were blue in the face and yet there would still be people who would be unpersuaded that the coincidence of earthquakes and a major hurricane in the same week is nothing more than coincidence. Seriously, if God is behind this, then God is really, really bored these days.
2. The gallows humor that springs forth in the wake of natural disasters is pretty awesome, as coping mechanisms go. Under this kind of stress, I suppose we have to crack up or crack up, know what I mean?
3. “Better safe than sorry” is as annoying as it is true. I’m guessing many a New Yorker is feeling pretty put out by the suspension of subway service, but I shudder to think what would have happened if Irene had gotten really bitchy and folks got trapped in the subway. I’m no engineer, but to me, flash flood + subway tunnels = the most nightmarish scenario, ever.
And, hey, wasn’t it just a couple of months ago that there were a ridiculously unfair number of tornadoes that devastated communities in Missouri and Alabama? I don’t think it would be at all unreasonable if we asked Mother Nature to just chill the F out for a while so we can all catch our breath and buy more batteries.
Flashlight at the ready and memo received.