Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Fist of Nature...


Forty Thousand and counting. Dead... men, women, and children whose lives were ended with one instantaneous heave of the Earth's crust thrusting a radial fist of death at hyper-velocity in all directions at once. I've been following this event since it first appeared among the chatter over the Christmas weekend. 1,000 believed dead in the first few hours. The season of life was being puncuated by a reminder of just how precious that one gift is. We sung silent hymns by candlelight to remember. Later we prayed for those lost. The numbers had grown. 6000... 12000... 18000...

And the pictures rolled in. The vultures had arrived nearly as fast the wave. One might wonder had some taken haitus from
staging murders with associated butchers to photograph nature’s statement? Applying that journalists’ ethic here, would they have raised an alarm had they known what was coming?... being that they are no more than objective purveyors of the fancies of fates. Perhaps their wires around the Indian Rim were kept as secret as those in Fallujah and Haifa.

A new week began with a new and unimaginable number, 23,000. Wretchard recorded his gripping insight over at
Belmont Club regarding the nature and perspective of disaster. My mind pondered memories and experience for bearing - Flash floods in Central Texas, tornadoes, hurricanes in the Gulf, Mt. St. Helens. Nothing in my memory came close. History however is replete with cataclysm.

Thera exploded (ca.1628/7 B.C.E.) Western civilization itself was momentarily silenced in and around the Mediterranean Rim. When the shock had subsided, Euripides wrote:

"There came a sound, as if from within the Earth... Zeus' hollow thunder boomed, awful to hear... The horses lifted heads towards the sky... And pricked their ears; while strange fear fell on us,... Whence came the voice. To the sea-beaten shore... We looked, and saw a monstrous wave that soared... Into the sky, so lofty that my eyes... Were robbed of seeing the Scironian cliffs... It hid the isthmus and Asclepius' rock... Then seething up and bubbling all about... With foaming flood and breath from the deep sea,... Shoreward it came to where the chariot stood." - Euripides, The Hippolytus

Pompeii and Herculaneum are two urban graveyard inexorably linked to nature's fury. Krakatoa is another. The City of St. Pierre on Martinique died in an instant in 1902 when Mt. Pelee erupted. Of its population of 28,000, only 2 survived.

And yet, volcanoes are but one hand of nature. San Fransisco perished when the Earth heaved beneath her in 1906. But, many places have felt that particular hand throughout history an the victims have been far too plenty, from a
Wonder of the Ancient World, to the children of Bam.

Even as I write, the death toll along the Indian Rim rises to 44,000 (

Storms can be equally as deadly. And every year, it seems, there are accounts of 6-figure death tolls resulting from monsoon flooding in India and Asia. Typhoons lurk annually among the shores of the Pacific, while Cyclones hunt the South Seas, and Hurricanes prowl the Atlantic, Carribean, and the Gulf of Mexico. In 1900, a
monster snuck upon the great coastal city of Galveston Texas. At that time, she rivaled New York among the greatest metropolitan jewels of American Urbanity. The predator's fist slammed into her with little warning as one of the greatest hurricanes ever recorded obliterated the island city and inland towns with sheering winds and a wall of water that submerged their very existence. It is a legend known to every native child of Texas and one remebered every time the black clouds swirl in strangely from the south. Erik Larson assembled a superb recount of the 1900 storm in his book, Isaac's Storm. Of all the stories of my recollection, this is the one that provides the most vivid insight into the nature of disaster from which I can draw perspective for the devastation in the East.

Last summer, I sat with my family at an outdoor restaurant in Cannon Beach, Oregon enjoying a fine summer morning on the coast of the Pacific Northwest. The morning silence was suddenly exploded by the eruption of a warning klaxon that startled my wife and I, and frightened our 2 year old son to tears. It was the periodic test of the town's coastal warning system. When the disruption subsided, I asked a local seated nearby, "when was the last tsunami?"

The young man replied, "I dunno!"

Nevertheless, we all took notice of where we were, and how to get out if the 'fist' approached. One wonders if the victims in Thailand and Sri Lanka had any similar periodic reminders. And if so, would it have been enough to reduce the great number of those lost. One commentator described the wave of death to have travelled at the speed of a jet-liner. The horrific irony is that Americans remember how shockingly fast and destructive that is.


The death toll continues to rise. As with the Galveston disaster, we may never know how much was lost. Attention must swing from the dead to the living. Many agencies are now assembling aid for the survivors, the injured and homeless. WorldVision has organized a relief effort for the region. The site is a little overwhlemed to be certain, but do stick with it. Let us be the rainbow over subsiding waters.


Cheese and Crackers links to amatuers' tsunami videos. Far from being the fodder for casualty vampires, I believe they give everyone a more profound perspective of what has happened in the East and how a disaster of such immense magnitude can strike with deceptively gentle killing precision. But Dueler asks a great question: "At what point do you put down the camera... and help?!" Jordan follows up that post with a timely look at the relief efforts and aid that is being assembled for deployment in the Indian Rim.

UPDATE: 12.28.04:20:56

Check out these sites as well: Wizbang, Powerline, Captain's Quarters, Brain Shavings, and The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami.

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