Shaken And Stirred

Earthquakes and hurricanes; the big disasters that weren't

What happened? What kind of mediocre, cheesy outfit are we running here? We have, not one, but two – count 'em, two! – natural disasters in the capital of the free world and not much happens except some lights going out and a couple of buildings needing a face lift?

Where is the drama? Where is the suffering? Where is the angst?

There is an accepted American cultural preconceived notion of what a natural disaster is supposed to look like and this wasn't it.

First, an earthquake and there is no running and screaming in the streets, no lightning shaped cracks opening the earth along the beltway, no dramatic crumbling of America's monuments (well, maybe a little – the Washington Monument is still closed). Then within a week, a hurricane approaches the shaken city, we track it and batten down the hatches, brace ourselves, sleep in the basement and . . . and – wah! – some rain and fallen tree branches.

I think my personal and unfortunate problem is that I am a child of the golden age of disaster movies – the 1970s. That decade was chock full of movies depicting every disaster you could imagine with film titles like Airport, The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, City On Fire!, Flood! (yes, the exclamation points were officially part of the titles), Avalanche, Swarm and Meteor. And that's only a few of them. I don't even need to go over any plot summaries for you to know the exact nature of these films.

This is on top of the real natural disasters that brought true and fatal conditions in places like New Orleans and Haiti in recent years. So our expectations were a bit off. The fact is that history books are not filled with the stories of mild natural disasters. My teen daughter said the sentiment rather clearly in her facebook update on Sunday afternoon: “the hurricane passed, we have electricity, and our house didn't blow away. I am so disappointed.” 

But, the good news is, well, there was no running and screaming in the streets, no lightning shaped cracks opening the earth along the beltway and no dramatic crumbling of America's monuments! The hurricane was predicted to be a tiger for the Washington area and came through like a kitten. Even though it feels almost like we missed the excitement boat, I am counting up my blessings, hugging my kids, and thanking heaven for the good luck we've had in our back luck of having an earthquake and a hurricane at all.

For our area, this is what it means to escape “by the skin of your teeth,” because if you are paying attention to the national news, parts of New England, especially the rural areas, got it bad. The water coming down from the mountains in Vermont, New Hampshire and upstate New York are like raging rivers barreling right through a bunch of little towns. The shorelines in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are washed away. Rivers swept away houses and bridges, made roads impassable and messed up the water supplies. But, again, luckily, there was not an abundance of deaths. There will be a lot of complaining about reconstructions, money and insurance, but considering the fact that 10% of the American population lives on the east coast, they didn't do too bad.

Meanwhile, back in suburban Maryland, the biggest complaint at our house was that our local schools actually HAD power and the the first day of school was going to happen, as planned, on Monday morning. As I gave pecks on the cheeks and shooed them out the door, all I could reply to that line of belly aching was, “Aww, that's too bad. Bye.”


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