A week or two ago, I was talking with a friend in Panama, when she suddenly said ‘Hang on a minute – the house is shaking – earthquake.’ A minute later we casually resumed our conversation. I was yelling into the phone” ARE YOU OK? Sure, she replied. This happens all the time but they aren’t very powerful. No warning. Nothing. All I could do was shake my head.
Speaking of earthquakes…. The earthquake that generated the great Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 is estimated to have released the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). By the end of the day more than 150,000 people were dead or missing and millions more were homeless in 11 countries. Rare in the Indian Ocean, tsunamis most often occur in the Pacific Ocean. Today’s technology permits monitoring of shifting tectonic plates that generate these monster waves, but sadly, those in line for devastation have short notice of its approach.
This morning as I’m having coffee and reading my email, I had one from a friend in Arizona, with pictures of the fires burning about four miles from his home. They are packed and ready to run in case they need to evacuate. I just got off the phone with other friends we have in Prescott, AZ. I called (totally forgetting it was only 6:00 a.m. there) to make sure they were OK. The fire is about 10 miles west of them, and he said the firefighters were doing a fantastic job of containing the fire. They have also packed up pictures and important papers just in case.
This spring two record-breaking tornados hit Moore, OK, destroying two schools and killing 24 people. If you look at the pictures of the devastation, it’s unbelievable that hundreds weren’t killed. Warning horns went off and those school employees took immediate steps to protect the children, as residents raced for underground shelters. Technology has extended the ‘early warning’ time for tornados to almost 15 minutes – time to take cover if you’re lucky and paying attention.
Sitting here, looking out at the water in front of this house – it’s flat as a pancake, and the ‘snowbirds’ are headed back north for the summer. Every night there are 4-12 yachts parked out front at dusk. The next leg of their journey is a 25 mile long ‘ditch’ that has lots of barge traffic at night, so they anchor and enjoy the sunset. But I’ve seen this same water white capping with 4-5’ waves crashing into the bulkhead. Six hurricanes put water in the house…. Three in ’96 (Bertha, Fran, and Josephine), Dennis and Floyd in 1999, and Isabel in 2003. During Floyd, the water rose so high it came in the windows. [Fran went inland up interstate 40 and devastated Raleigh – at our house there, we were without power for 10 days.]
But in North Carolina, if you are going to live BY the water, you might get to live IN the water. We had the house raised 12’ in 2006 and now all we have to do when a hurricane’s moving in….. is move the boats, golf cart and lawn mower to high ground, and then hit the road inland so we don’t lose the vehicles. Our warning time is generally a week – plenty of time to batten down and to GTHO!
One Brunswick County beach where I have family (south of Wilmington) will usually issue mandatory evacuations during hurricanes and 99% of the people leave. You cannot be FORCED by authorities to go, but the last thing the first responders do before closing the bridge off the island is go door-to-door seeing who’s staying. These folks have to sign a release saying they understand it could be a long time before help gets to them AND they are given a hospital-style bracelet with their name, SSN, and next of kin info to wear. THIS usually gets their attention and they leave….. usually. [This particular beach, 10 miles long, was hit in 1954 by Hurricane Hazel.... and only ONE HOUSE (five of 357 buildings) was left standing - because it was atop the only high dune on the entire beach. A couple on their honeymoon rode out Hazel in that house - what a memorable honeymoon THAT would have been!]
I look at the devastation Sandy did to the Northeast and can only shake my head at the shame of it all. Why ANYONE stayed and rode that one out is beyond me. I bet they won’t consider staying next time.
There are countless natural disasters on the world’s menu… and I’ve only covered a few. People ask why do you live where you do? So many hurricanes – so much mess to clean up afterwards. My reply is: Our warning time is generally a week – plenty of time to batten down and to GTHO! And 363 days a year, this is paradise and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. (Almost)