That is an incredibly strong quake. I was in High School when the Sylmar quake (6.6 on the Richter scale) happened, it’s epicenter was in the San Gabriel mountains and I lived mere miles from it. I also experienced the Coalingua quake, which was actually more powerful, but the epicenter for that one was out in the Mojave, so there was far less damage. The 1971 quake demolished a relatively new hospital, and did extensive damage to a Veterans Hospital, (most of the casualties occurred there) destroyed bridges and overpasses and killed 68 people.
I’ve had my share of experiences with natural disasters, including several earthquakes, a couple of tornadoes, a hurricane, and two flash-floods. Every one of those experiences was humbling, but if I had to rank them, I’d have to say that tornadoes and earthquakes are the scariest. With earthquakes, (at least for me) it isn’t the shaking ground, or the threat of things falling on top of your head or even the idea that the earth could open a fissure and swallow you whole that you remember…its the noise. When the plates under the part of the planet you occupy decide to re-align, its pretty loud. It seems to start as a distant, low rumbling, then intensifies until you can hardly hear yourself scream. I can remember standing under a doorway many times throughout my life. Its the same thing with tornadoes…the damn things really do sound like an oncoming train.
Of course, I am lucky enough to live in a country with decent (post-WWII) building codes, and, by comparison to much of the world, a pretty good infrastructure. Of course when a tornado strike a community here in Tennessee, the damage is significant, and the loss of life is heartbreaking, but our resources are plenty, and almost immediately there is medical attention available, as well as food, water, and police protection. I remember how amazed I was after hurricane Opal slammed South Georgia. In the past, I never considered hurricanes all that frightening…after all, its just wind and rain, right? So, right in the middle of Opal, I decided to step outside to see it all firsthand. I walked out the backdoor of our house, and headed for an area I though might provide a wind-break. I had taken probably five steps when a 10ft by 4ft piece of metal roofing flew by me at around 3000 miles an hour. I went back inside.
The Primary Wife was immediately summoned to the hospital’s Emergency Room (as were all nurses employed in the area) so I decided to drive around around town and survey the damage. It is strange to see huge trees laying flat, ripped from the ground. Many homes were damaged by the 90mph winds and falling trees. Downed power lines were everywhere. But, within days, those lines were back up, the trees cut up and hauled off, and normalcy returned. Same thing right here in Tennessee after tornadoes swept through Goodlettsville and Gallatin. In fact, our wealth allows us to get back on our collective feet after any major disaster. Even with hurricane Katrina, and all the mismanagement she exposed,(and there is plenty of blame to go around) within a week, virtually every survivor had access to shelter and sustenance.
I fear it won’t be that way for Haiti. It may take weeks just to rescue those still trapped in the rubble. The dead will remain wherever they lie for quite some time. The government itself is in shambles. There will be probably be aftershocks for days afterward, and that could cause panic among those already traumatized. There will be orphans with no one that might offer at least some comfort. I’m fearful that riots might take even more lives.
It will require international assistance to provide potable water, food, and medical assistance.
Obviously, if you have the means, relief organizations will need money. I don’t know which one to support yet, but the info available on the web should make it easier to identify those organizations that do the most with the least. If you have a favorite, let me know in the comments section.
(photo credit: Newscom/UPI/Talking Points Memo)