Sunday, June 01, 2008

Common disasters

It started off as a bad year for me personally, and it is shaping up globally to be a bad year of Biblical proportions.

The aftereffects of Cyclone Nargis in the Irrawaddy delta continue to be dealt with incompetently by the Burmese bakufu. Somewhere, one Myanmarese general is commending another general, nicknamed the local equivalent of "Brownie," for doing a heckuva job. Satellite photos in today's NYT show villages in which every building has disappeared, hundreds of buildings.

In China, the Sichuan earthquake's death toll has been revised upward to 80,000 from the 60,000 it was a few days ago. The current obsession is with the possibility of secondary disasters from the new quake lakes. The quake lakes are a fortuitous result of geological forces, and air strikes are unlikely to change things one way or the other. Taiwan has some lakes that were created by recent earthquakes, and Fuji Five Lakes were the result of volcanic eruptions of Mount Fuji. Since all lakes will naturally silt up and disappear over time, the creation of new lakes is a rare and special geological gift. How else can new lakes be created? We should probably just be grateful for them. Granted, there is a chance they may not be permanently stable, but give them a chance. Doing some temporary evacuations should be enough to see if the new natural dam will erode completely, moderately, or not at all when overflowed.

Although it is smaller scale by a factor of 10,000 in terms of the death toll and human impact, the tornado in Parkersburg, Iowa was of more personal interest to me. I have been to the Burmese border, but not in Burma, and went through Chengdu and Chongqing in China, but Parkersburg is near my mother's hometown and also where my dentist used to be located. It's possible that my dental records have ended up in Wisconsin or Illinois as reportedly happened to some photographs from Parkersburg, although I doubt anyone keeps dental records that long. Coincidentally, the previous record holder for Iowa's biggest tornado was an F-5 that hit Charles City in 1968, about one county away to the northeast. I can remember seeing the ruins of that one as a small child. I found some current tornado pictures here, here, here, and here --although they are small and some of these seem to go offline after 5 days.

A large series of aerial photos here shows the total destruction as winds exceeded 200 mph (320kph?)! As you can see in other pictures, concrete block foundations and even rectangular tombstones were blown away and rolled around.

It may be best for Iowans to consider building semi-underground reinforced concrete geodesic domes or, at the very least, A-frame homes.

If this goes on, will the Beijing Games be canceled by bird flu or another contagious outbreak? Perhaps another coastal American city is due to be destroyed by sea level rise and hurricanes. Miami, taken out just before the November elections, could enrage the population even if (or because) the Floridians are given generous handouts 9-11 style to try to pay them off. Perhaps it is Europe's turn? The Dutch should be offered generous resettlement opportunities in countries above sea level.

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