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Nature’s Hazards

June 24, 2013 — 12 Comments

tumbleweedsNo matter where in the world you live, you are vulnerable to dangers uniquely associated with that locale. Some of us have moved around and weathered a variety of these threats.

My own family has survived earthquakes in our home state of Washington, ice storms in Oklahoma, nearby tornadoes in Texas, record-setting freezes in Minnesota, both droughts and failed levees in two different California cities along with a Super Typhoon in Guam. (Sometimes we’ve even been assailed by disasters that had no place occurring where they did, like a hurricane that knocked out our power for a full month in England, of all places!)

It’s quite possible that you too have experienced near misses when it comes to suffering Nature’s wrath. (I’d much rather attribute these things to fallen Nature than refer to them as “acts of God.”)

C.S. Lewis offers a wonderful description of Nature in Miracles.

You must have tasted, however briefly, the pure water from beyond the world before you can be distinctly conscious of the hot, salty tang of Nature’s current. To treat her as God, or as Everything, is to lose the whole pith and pleasure of her. Come out, look back, and then you will see . . . this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads. How could you ever have thought that this was the ultimate reality? How could you ever have thought that it was merely a stage-set for the moral drama of men and women? She is herself.

Offer her neither worship nor contempt. Meet her and know her. If we are immortal, and if she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) to run down and die, we shall miss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigible fairy, this dumb witch. But the theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed. The “vanity” to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence. She will be cured, but cured in character: not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilised. We shall still be able to recognise our old enemy, friend, play-fellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself. And that will be a merry meeting.

But, until that glorious day when Nature has been reborn in the culmination of the event that took place on Calvary . . . until that day, Nature remains a capricious neighbor. It’s best to know what she is likely to throw at you based on where you reside—and be prepared. Disaster preparedness is something that the wise will concern themselves before catastrophe strikes.

There are some dangers, however, for which one cannot adequately prepare. The prospects of mega-tsunamis terrify me (and I don’t even live by the sea). Then there are zombie outbreaks, which are apparently taking place on a frequent basis, if the plethora of media on that ghoulish subject is any indication.

The photograph at the top of this page reveals a grim threat to life on the American plains. There may be a few other places where these merciless creatures wreak havoc (the arid portions of Australia, perhaps), but I hope most of those reading this have been spared the visage of plagues of tumbleweeds racing across the horizon in search of victims to overrun, scar, and bury. As the picture shows, sometimes it is not even safe to shelter in a home during a particularly virulent attack.

I’ve seen many a wayward tumbleweed, while I’ve driven across barren desert terrains. Occasionally you’ll see them alone, scouting ahead of the mass for weak prey. If you see an entire horde, well . . . it’s probably already to late to flee.

This picture makes me shiver. It’s one reason I’m so happy to have moved home to Puget Sound, where the incessant rain* keeps everything green. I can put up with an occasional tectonic jiggle, if it means I don’t have to worry about being buried alive beneath a mountain of desiccated thorns.

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* The rainfall in western Washington is highly exaggerated. It’s true that for half of the year it receives more rain than the national average, but the other six months it receives less than average of the rest of the nation.

Also, I don’t believe it is an accident that one of the most commonly encountered tumbleweeds in the United States is Salsola tragus, an utterly humorless thistle that invaded from Russia at the end of the nineteenth century. Despite occasional eruptions, it seems to be lying in wait, for the most part, growing in strength for the final conflagration between humanity and noxious weeds and their allies, the triffids.

I spent this morning participating in Major Disaster Response Training at a nearby United States Naval installation. It is connected to the national readiness programs coordinated by FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency).

Thankfully, these plans and preparations have improved dramatically since the tragic events surrounding Hurricane Katrina.

Our “local” exercises will continue tomorrow, with extended brainstorming about a number of scenario variations. They will all be based upon an inevitable 9.0 magnitude megathrust earthquake destined to occur just off the coast of Washington and Oregon states.

The last mega-earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone took place in 1700, and pressure between the earth’s drifting plates continues to build, day by day. When that pent up energy next breaks free, it is likely to affect the volcanoes which run in a fevered band from Alaska to northern California.

The potential for damage and loss of life is great, and barring the return of Christ before the event . . . as I said above, it is inevitable. Geological evidence reveals that these massive upheavals have taken place every 300 to 600 years, for the past three and a half millennia.

Advance planning can help reduce the casualties. More specifically, it enables governmental agencies and other groups to prepare before the event to respond to the crisis as effectively as possible. Better coordination results in less overlap and fewer gaps, especially during the first critical hours when trapped people can be rescued alive from the rubble.

As I sat in the meeting I thought for a while about the other members of the clergy who were in attendance. They earnestly want to learn how to help prepare their congregations for such events, so their church members can recover quickly—and then, in turn, be able to aid everyone else in the community. Everyone attending the meetings here is a volunteer. It’s not their “job” to provide assistance and care to others . . . it’s their calling.

The title for this column mentions a “positive” aspect of disasters. It is this: they provide an opportunity for the very best and most heroic attributes of men and women to be revealed. In the worst of times, the best qualities of humanity shine most clearly.

C.S. Lewis took note of this truth. In his Screwtape Letters, wherein a senior devil provides temptation advice to a junior demon, Lewis addresses this great irony. In horrible circumstances, great good may be manifested.

Now this is a ticklish business. We have made men proud of most vices, but not of cowardice. Whenever we have almost succeeded in doing so, the Enemy permits a war or an earthquake or some other calamity, and at once courage becomes so obviously lovely and important even in human eyes that all our work is undone, and there is still at least one vice of which they feel genuine shame. The danger of inducing cowardice in our patients, therefore, is lest we produce real self-knowledge and self-loathing with consequent repentance and humility. And in fact, in the last war, thousands of humans, by discovering their own cowardice, discovered the whole moral world for the first time.

In peace we can make many of them ignore good and evil entirely; in danger, the issue is forced upon them in a guise to which even we cannot blind them. There is here a cruel dilemma before us. If we promoted justice and charity among men, we should be playing directly into the Enemy’s hands; but if we guide them to the opposite behaviour, this sooner or later produces (for He permits it to produce) a war or a revolution, and the undisguisable issue of cowardice or courage awakes thousands of men from moral stupor.

God forbid that natural disasters occur. However, when they do, we can praise him for his acts of benevolence, mercy and healing . . . which are frequently offered through the courageous actions of his children.

May you and I prepare ourselves—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually—to be instruments of his grace and peace whenever the need arises.