Thoughts and prayers for the Japanese people, especially for the families of the victims. I’ve seen the videos of the shaking and the resultant tsunami engulfing everything in it’s path faster than a person can run, carrying cars by the hundreds and burning buildings with it. The word inexorable comes to mind. Catastrophes on this scale are beyond comprehension.
If there is anything positive in the situation, it’s that the Japanese are probably the best-prepared people in the world to handle a major earthquake. They have the advantages of long experience, a highly developed economy, and superb organizational skills. While they probably won’t turn down any help the world has to offer, they are well-prepared to take care of themselves.
The most recent quake and the one in New Zealand are causing folks where I live some anxiety. We live in an area with very similar geological processes to those found off the coast of Japan, and what happened there is exactly what’s predicted to happen here, well, pretty much any time. The last event occurred in 1700, with five known large earthquakes since 600 BC occurring at a mean interval of 470 years. The pattern of reoccurrence would seem to suggest that we should be safe for another century, but natural processes don’t punch a clock. We’re going to have another major earthquake, we just don’t know exactly when.
That unpredictability is why earthquakes are perhaps more frightening than other natural disasters. Volcanoes can be monitored, weather systems and large rocks from space tracked, but at present earthquakes cannot be predicted. I’ve experienced several earthquakes, from magnitude 3 and 4 rumblers to the 6.2 Morgan Hill earthquake in California. If memory serves that particular quake lasted about 30 seconds, which doesn’t sound like much, but when the earth and everything else you normally think of as solid are moving, it’s a long time. For perspective, the Japanese quake was over 11,000 times stronger than the Morgan Hill temblor.
A Bad Day at the Office
Today in 1953 the U.S. Air Force dropped a nuclear weapon on Mars Bluff, SC. A B-47 on a training flight experienced a malfunction in the bomb release mechanism; reports differ on whether the malfunction was mechanical or human, and the bomb fell 15,000 feet onto a house. Operational protocol at the time dictated that the bomb’s fissionable core be kept in a separate location on the aircraft until it was to be armed, but the detonation of the bomb’s conventional explosive trigger demolished the house and a number of trees. No one was killed, but I can imagine few worse things to have to tell your boss than that you’d just lost an atomic bomb.