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Robert A. Mills

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Blogs by Robert A. Mills

EARTHQUAKE
2/3/2010 8:34:03 AM    [ Flag as Spam or Inappropriate ]


On an otherwise balmy September 1, a disastrous earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale struck Tokyo, the capital of Japan, killing over 100,000 citizens and obliterating 40,000+ others who have never been accounted for.

The quake, which occurred at lunchtime, had as many as 57 after-shocks, totally flattening the city and rendering well over a million survivors homeless and destitute. As a great number of structures were of lightweight materials, fire caused most of the casualties. Thousands were incinerated when they tried to flee but became stuck running on melting tarmac. Water mains were destroyed, and it took nearly a week to bring the fires under something resembling control.

Frank Lloyd Wright, the renowned architect, is credited with saving a multitude of lives; his Imperial Hotel was, of course, damaged, but its anti-earthquake construction protected most within from suffering serious injury. The nearby Imperial Palace was badly burned, but the Emperor and Empress were out of the city; also, the Prince Regent was not harmed.

“I was sitting alone in the hotel restaurant,” related Walter Rooney, a traveling businessman a long way from his Upstate New York home, “when the tea in my cup suddenly rippled and sloshed over the brim and splattered on my trousers. Seconds later all hell broke loose.”

Accounts of homes being crushed or swept away by mudslides listed over 800 fatalities, and at a train station a landslide catapulted railroad cars with scores of passengers into the sea, along with the terminal and nearby village. The earthquake spawned at least one tsunami 32 feet high that killed more than 100 people lounging at a public beach.

All this happened less than 86 years ago and today is regarded as but a footnote in history. Or at least it was, until January 12, 2010, when a similar earthquake virtually turned the capital city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti into a disaster reminiscent of the Tokyo chaos. Reminiscent? Perhaps, but totally different.

First and foremost, there was no TV in 1923 and Japan was as removed from the American consciousness then as the possibility of life on Mars is today. Communication with the Orient was limited to radio-news communiqués and often days-old newspaper accounts, most of which were as unconfirmed and erroneous as they were sporadic and infrequent.

Today we have CNN, CNBC, and a host of networks, newspaper syndicates and erudite reporters on site to disseminate minute-by-minute stories about everything to do with disasters from body counts to surgical sterilization techniques employing scavenged bottles of vodka. There is no longer anything peculiar or mysterious about natural phenomenon and how we cope with it. We can raise money by the carload, send food, water, clothing and medical supplies in huge aircraft, and deploy doctors, nurses and caseworkers by the hundreds. We can even endure incarceration of certain church people who allegedly are so moved they tried to scurry off with children who appear to have been thrust in harm’s way.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, volcanic eruptions, landslides, famines, explosions et al, bring out the best—-and worst-—in Americans. Just stop and think: had there been TV, AP, Reuters and World Wide Radio in 1923 as we know them today, there might never have been a Day of Infamy in 1941. Had it been time for all great Americans to come to the aid of Japan, as we have and will for Haiti, can we suspect for a moment they might ever have had imperialistic designs on us? Get real. All things being equal GM, Ford and Chrysler would long ago have become Gimatusi, Fogoto and Cryitusamo—and there wouldn’t be an erratic accelerator among them.

It begs the question: what will become of Haiti?

Only God knows. Like a sweater for Christmas from an aunt we never really cared for, we will don the garment when the old bag comes over and make the best of the few hours required to wear it. Likewise, we will do all we can (and then some) for our pitiful neighbors, but the day will come when we’ll be relieved of the obligation to wear the unwanted sweater—-probably the day we bury the aunt and CNN tells us that, like Pompeii, they are covering the western end of Hispaniola with the rubble of 2010, hoping against hope everything can be smoothed over in a few years.

By the way, it’s a good thing Walter Rooney was billeted at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo that time in 1923. His four and a half year old son Andy would have missed him.


Copyright©2010 by Robert A. Mills








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