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After Irene: What happens the Next Time, do we feel Lucky?

Crews working to restore power aboard Camp LeJeune

Irene has left the scene and thankfully for whatever reason, divine intervention or just plain luck Irene lost her groove and didn’t get it back before coming ashore.  There was damage and loss of life but it could have been much worse.  She had weakened and hit New York at low tide had she not weakened and moved fast New Yorkand much of New Englandcould have faced a disaster of epic proportions.  Even still damages are estimated at 7 billion dollars and there were towns which most people in power don’t really give a damn about that were devastated by flooding, storm surge or wind.

In North Carolinawhen I am stationed we took the brunt of the storm.  There was a lot of damage in the communities where she came ashore, the Outer Banks and in low lying inland areas where the building codes are less stringent than on the coast but it could have been much worse.  A big part of the reason is that we have been abnormally dry and so streams and rivers were low and the ground was able to absorb the heavy rain. I have been through worse here and I’m glad that we did not have a repeat of Floyd were the storm was a high category 2 with massive rains inundating a state that had been saturated by two previous hurricanes.

My Island Hermitage is on Emerald Isle and it is better situated than many communities on the Outer Banks.  Despite this I prepared in earnest and thankfully all the damage I had was a bit of wet carpet which happens every time we get a lot of rain.  I’m told that my home inVirginia Beach came through fine although as in every tropical storm or Nor’easter the lakes in my neighborhood overflowed and flooded the streets.  In past tropical storms and Nor’easters we lot power for extended periods of time.   According to my neighbor who was looking after the house there was only a momentary outage.

For us the storm produced some anxiety. As a geographic bachelor and as a part of essential staff at the Naval Hospital I knew that I would be there for the duration. Since Irene was a massive storm I had Judy secure our home and evacuate on Thursday.  We I made the call Irene was expected to hit as a category 3 or strong category 2 storm with both the Island Hermitage and my Old Virginia Home in the crosshairs.  I veer to caution in such situations, it is far better to over prepare and get lucky than to presume upon God or nature depending on your world view.

I rode out Irene in our Naval hospital with our bare bones essential staff, some of their families, patients and families, women in their last weeks of pregnancy and pets of the staff members forced to be on duty.  We did well, my Commanding Officer told the story in this blog post http://navymedicine.navylive.dodlive.mil/archives/501 .  We lost commercial power early on and were on diesel backup generators the duration of the storm.  After the Friday dinner we were reduced to emergency rations which the main courses have an eerie resemblance to MREs and what staff had brought from home.

I ambled about on my gimpy leg the best that I could and had to resort to using my cane to make my rounds as I went about to staff, patients and family members.  Several babies were born on Friday night and Saturday.  It was a good event and thankfully nothing bad occurred.  A lot of people especially those that had never been through a hurricane or had a spouse deployed overseas found it unnerving. But we did our best. We converted the chapel to a TV room for the kids to watch movies since they had little else to do and almost every television were on non-emergency circuits.  We ran an extension cord to an “essential” plug in our section of the building which allowed this to happen and our hospital American Red Cross office supplied us with DVDs as well as coloring books and games for the kids.

As I have written in previous articles the military, particularly the Navy tends to be more of a family than any civilian employer. We are bound together by our shared experiences of deployments, danger and regular moves and family separations.  We pull together in ways that I have never seen in the civilian world.   It is an honor to serve.  I finally left the hospital late this morning since Emerald Isle did not reopen the bridge that links us to the mainland until today.

Since I have come back online I have seen some comments from various critics of Federal disaster assistance or the actions of governors or mayors of states and cities with large numbers of people in the danger zone, about 67 million Americans I think is the number.  The most critical politicians were from the House of Representatives and the biggest mockers when Irene came ashore in a weakened state and did less damage than expected were from the “new” conservative media.  Having been through more hurricanes and major earthquakes than I can count and seen the devastation of these events and the effects on the lives of people I find the comments calloused, mean spirited and simply used this as another way to push a political agenda.

Of course it is easy to be a critic when you have no direct responsibility for the lives of people.  You see those in the executive branch be it at Federal, State of City levels of government  and the agencies are each level are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  If they know of something that that could devastate their communities and the citizens in them and do too much and disaster doesn’t strike, those that hate government say that they are overreacting and an “intrusion of big government.”  If they don’t react it is held up as a failure of government.  As far as Federal assistance after an event those that say that the Federal government should let people sink or swim and states and municipalities fend for themselves even if the disaster is overwhelming the same is true.  They are always critical simply because they want to dismantle the Federal government. Well most are against it until it is their community is affected, the rare exception being Virginia Representative and House Majority Whip Eric Cantor who told people in his own district to take a hike after they were hit by an earthquake that no one ever anticipated or were prepared.

Close to 70 million people were potentially at risk from a potentially historic hurricane that only weakened at the last minute.  The President, the governors of the affect states and the mayors of major cities did what they were supposed to do.  They did not wait until it was too late as was the case in Louisiana and Hurricane Katrina.  For that they are mocked I the press, especially those that are deemed liberal I haven’t heard any criticism of the actions of Republican Governors of Virginia or New Jersey for doing what the Mayor of New York did.

We got lucky this time but some day we won’t be and if the critics have their way the result will be historic in the bad kind of way, think about the Tsunami in Japan kind of bad.  We got lucky and if we think of ourselves as gamblers we need to remember that eventually the law of averages works against us, just ask the people of New Orleans or more recently Joplin Missouri.  God or nature take your pick only gives us so many chances and it takes only one of these things to make a direct hit and wipe untold numbers of people, their communities and even the assets of major corporations and Fortune 500 companies, but then the people that are against Federal assistance to regular people would jump through their asses to help Corporate America, can you imagine what would have happened in Wall Street went under like they did back in 2008 except this time under real water?

Being prepared and taking precautions is always preferable to loss of life on a major scale.  No government or community can be prepared for all contingencies but it is foolish for them not to do so but they are damned if they do and damned if the don’t in the eyes of their critics do not have the same responsibility.

I do hope that we band together to help those most affected by Irene and other recent disasters.  Prayer is nice but action is even nicer. Thank God there are good people that lay it all out for those in need and do it well working with the government and other charitable organizations and individuals. I think a lot about the efforts of the Southern Baptist disaster response teams as well as the Salvation Army disaster relief and those like them that make such a difference.

I’m glad that Irene lost her groove and didn’t get it back, unfortunately lives were lost and millions of people have suffered some kind of loss due to her.

After the Storm

For me it was a long and exhausting event. But it was a great chance for me to have a weekend with some wonderful people, my local Navy and Marine Corps family.  Men and women that give every day and exemplify the best of America.  That makes all the difference.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Disaster in Japan: A Time to Act and Pray

A Woman sits amid the rubble in the town of Natori, Myagi Prefecture

It appears that we have crossed the line from cataclysm to absolute disaster as three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant appear to be melting down top one extent or another. Japanese government officials have increased the evacuation zone following the latest explosion at the number 2 reactor which may have had its containment vessel compromised. Additionally a fire has broken out in unit 4 which was not active but contains spent fuel rods and according to the government is probably releasing radiation into the atmosphere. Even without such a calamitous turn of events the tremendous devastation caused by the massive earthquake and tsunami were beyond compare in any first world nation. Japan has one of the largest economies in the world and despite a long term economic downturn has remained one of the key industrial nations in the world’s economic system. It also has probably the best civil defense and disaster relief systems in the world but even still this highly advanced country has been overwhelmed by the dual natural disasters and now a probable nuclear disaster.

Thousands have been confirmed dead and many thousands more are missing as the tsunami swept everything before it and probably has washed many thousands of victims out to sea. Whole cities lay in ruin and hundreds of thousands are in shelters or homeless many without power or water. Thousands more are critically injured are being cared for in an advanced but now highly stressed medical system. Transportation networks to include airports and military airfields, rail lines, seaports and highways are damaged to such an extent that relief agencies cannot use them.

There is little good news other than the tremendous grace that the Japanese people have shown under such terrible conditions. In conditions which would have sparked rioting and looting in most other nations including the United States and Western Europe the Japanese people are banding together to survive and respecting their neighbors even when such necessities as fresh water and food run out.

The Japanese power company TEPCO has evacuated all but 50 personnel from the compound and has admitted that the containment vessel for reactor number two may have been breached. Radiation levels are rising and no one knows what will happen to the reactors as they remain in such an uncontrolled state. For days Japanese engineers have worked feverishly to restore cooling systems and when that failed have attempted to cool the reactors by pumping in seawater and boric acid. Nothing appears to be working and with each news conference Japanese government and TEPCO officials seem to be preparing the Japanese public and the world for the worst.  Today people have been told to evacuate further or shelter in place as radiation levels have reached levels that could harm human beings.  Should all three reactors melt down and lose containment there will be a nuclear catastrophe that will make all previous nuclear incidents pale in significance.

While many Americans and others across the world are reaching out to provide aid and assistance to the victims of this tragedy others make pronouncements which are simply idiotic or even full of hatred and evil. On a YouTube posting of the tsunami I read posts that simply were hateful in response to the Japanese as well as those that would offer to help them. Unfortunately most of these comments were bundled into domestic American politics in which the people posting them were attacking President Obama and “the liberal media.” I wonder where the humanity of such people is when I see such lack of compassion for those affected by a catastrophe of this scale. I saw one post where the writer said that the “Japanese deserved it because he saw some Japanese cheer the 9-11 attacks.” Such Schadenfreude is simply are reflection of the darkness that inhabits the hearts of such people.

Conservative talk radio and Fox Television host Glenn Beck alluded that the earthquake might be “might be a message from God.” Now Beck has been known for putting his mouth around his foot without thinking for years and frequently apologizes and then tries to make amends so it is par for the course. However when CNBC financial host Lawrence Kudlow says “the human toll here looks to be much worse than the economic toll, and we can be grateful for that” it shows the depravity of our own financial elites who only look at the economic bottom line.  I guess the true morality of the economic Social Darwinism called Capitalism shows up in its starkest and most banal form in Kudlow’s words.  Not to be outdone Rapper 50 Cent tweeted crude jokes to his followers about the earthquake.

There are also a host of supposed Christians both Protestant and Catholic who supposedly are in the know about “God’s prophetic plan” that the earthquake and tsunami are God’s judgment against Japan for criticizing Israel or even “Demon worship” in Japan. When I read such nonsense I wonder how such people can call this the hand of God or blame it on the victims. I guess if such people get hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami that wipes them out it is also God’s judgment on them? What about all of those Bible believing churches in the tornado belt of the United States that get wiped out every year? Is that God’s judgment too?  I’m just asking.

While the situation in Japan is caused by unprecedented environmental factors which have overwhelmed nuclear plants, electronic grids and transportation systems and added to the misery the words of Larry Kudlow 50 Cent and the contributors to the YouTube video show a deeper problem in the United States. At its heart it is a moral and theological sickness that I think is beginning to overwhelm this country. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his prison cell before his execution by the Nazis something that speaks volumes in reference to the crisis in the American spirit and among some that call themselves Christian:

We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?

Well I think that the question “are we still of any use?” is something that we as a people need to ponder before we go making such comments be they religious, economic or just plain evil or stupid.

Thankfully there are a great many American and other people around the world that do not think like this. Among them are the civilian rescue teams and military personnel who are now in harm’s way and those that contribute of their time, talent or treasure to contribute something to agencies providing relief efforts.  Some celebrities most notably Lady Gaga have encouraged prayer for Japan and provided ways to donate to relief efforts. For those that desire to donate many organizations are providing relief supplies and assistance. People can contribute to the Red Cross and Salvation Army by donating $10 via text message with the money being applied to your cellular bill. To donate to the Red Cross text “redcross” to 90999 and for the Salvation Army text either “japan” or “quake” to 80888.  The Christian relief agency Samaritan’s Purse which is part of the Billy Graham organization is taking donations online at https://www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/Giving/Project_Donations/

Many other churches across the denomination spectrum and secular relief societies are helping. If you are connected to one particular charity that is helping to provide aid to Japan that is another way to help.

CNN published a list of organizations on its website as well as other pertinent information at http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/11/tsunami-aid-and-relief-how-you-can-help/

We can all pray for the people of Japan as well. This is a crisis which transcends national boundaries and political or religious divisions. I have modified a prayer issued by the Church of England here:

O loving Creator, bring healing and hope to those who, at this time, grieve, suffer pain, or who have been affected by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters in Japan.

We remember those who have died and we pray for those who mourn for them and those whose fates are not yet known.

May we all be aware of Your compassion, O God, which calms our troubled hearts and shelters our anxious souls that trusting in your grace that we will not lose heart and stretch forth our hands to help the victims of this disaster.

May we pray with humility with our troubled and struggling brothers and sisters on earth.

May we dare to hope that through the generosity of your people around the world that the destitute might glimpse hope, warmth and life again and that you will preserve the people of Japan from further harm and deliver them from all evil.

Grant this through our Savior Jesus Christ who lives with us, comforts us and soothes us. Amen.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Cataclysm in the Land of the Rising Sun

The Tsunami Hits

At 2:46 PM Tokyo time on Friday March 11th 2011 one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded struck off the Northeast coast of Japan. The quake which is now measured at 9.1 on the Richter scale caused damage to many structures from Tokyo north to the city of Sendai which bore the brunt of the damage. Had the damage been limited to that caused by the quake itself few would have given it a second thought as Japan has learned to build in such ways that damage from large quakes is minimal; a 7.3 temblor struck the same area on Wednesday with causing no damage. The damage from the quake would have been significant for Japan would have been exponentially greater in almost any other country including the United States. One only has to look at damage from much smaller quakes in the United States, Europe and around the world to verify this fact. The quake was so massive that it moved the coastline of Japan 8 feet.

Fire and Flood after the Quake and Tsunami

Large quakes are not uncommon in Japan but this one was different. It was much stronger than any felt in Japan’s recorded history including the massive 8.1 quake that struck Tokyo on September 1st 1923 the Great Kanto earthquake (Kantō daishinsai) which devastated Tokyo and the surrounding prefects killing between 100,000 and 142,000 people and spawned tsunami some of which were recorded as being 30 meters high.  The bulk of the casualties in that quake were caused in the great firestorms which engulfed the region.

The devastated town of Minamisanriku

The quake which was centered 80 miles offshore at a depth of 6 miles where the North American plate and the Pacific plate meet with the Pacific plate pushing westward and driving under the North American Plate. The North American plate broke under the pressure generated by the Pacific plate and was violently lifted upward creating a massive displacement of water from the Japan Trench creating tsunami. The tsunami struck the coast of Japan quickly but the Japanese tsunami warning system gave residents about a 15 minute notice. The tsunami struck with apocalyptic force sweeping away everything in its path, devastating the city of Sendai burying its airport runway and tarmac while sweeping some towns off the face of the earth with the chaos reaching as far as six miles inland. The official death toll continues to climb to over 1500 but 9,500 people are unaccounted for in the town of Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture alone.

Ships washed ashore at Myagi

Yet further threats remain. Large aftershocks some nearing 7.0 on the Richter scale, strong enough to create more tsunami continue to rock the region. The new morning has revealed the extent of the devastation and revealed a potential new catastrophe as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is in danger of losing its remaining battery power to cool down the reactors.  The resultant temperature increase in the containment dome is worrying provoking fears very real fears of a meltdown similar to the one at Three Mile Island caused engineers to vent radioactive steam to lower the pressure in the containment dome. There was a massive explosion in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant’s building which contains the number one unit. Japanese engineers are attempting to flood the containment chamber with sea water but this appears to be a measure of desperation. With the past several hours the highly radioactive element cesium has been detected which indicates that at least some of the fuel rods have melted at the Daiichi number one unit.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant explodes

The nearby Daini plant has also reported a loss in its ability to control its reactor pressure and Japanese engineers are considering releasing radioactive steam to relieve pressure in these facilities. A state of emergency has been declared at the Daiichi unit, the first in the history of Japan’s nuclear program and residents within twelve miles of the unit have been ordered to evacuate. Three more reactor units at the affected plants are under states of emergency and Japanese engineers are franticly attempting to get power to generators which power the pumps which cool the reactor cores.

Japan has the best civil defense and disaster preparedness system in the world is under tremendous strain. It has mobilized its military in order bolster the rescue and relief operations and asked for international assistance. At the present time 5.1 million homes are without power and over a quarter million people are in emergency shelters, a number which could go up depending on the extent of evacuations near the damaged nuclear plants. The United States has sent warships to provide humanitarian relief efforts including the USS Ronald Reagan, the Command Ship USNS Blue Ridge and several cruisers and destroyers. The USS Essex which had just arrived in Malaysia is getting ready to return to Japan to rendezvous with the USS Harpers Ferry and USS Germantown off Tokyo to prepare for any humanitarian assistance/disaster relief duties.  The 7th Fleet is working to get relief supplies and equipment into position to assist the Japanese. Likewise elements of the III Marine Expeditionary Force to provide helicopters, heavy equipment, medical support and other humanitarian support to affected areas.

Aftermath of the 1923 Great Kanto Quake

The situation is still developing and the danger from aftershocks, additional tsunami and disease related to the flooding as well the nuclear situation will complicate an already cataclysmic event. One cannot discount the possibility that the quake could cause other major seismic events. This is not unprecedented in Japan as the 8.6 Hōei quake of 1707 triggered a major eruption of Mount Fuji (Hōei dai funka) a month later.

Of course I always recommend that people pray for the victims of such disasters but everyone can do a little bit to contribute to relief efforts. CNN has published a list of organizations on its website as well as other pertinent information at http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/11/tsunami-aid-and-relief-how-you-can-help/ .  Both the Red Cross and Salvation Army have ways to donate $10 via text message with the money being applied to your cellular bill. To donate to the Red Cross text “redcross” to 90999 and for the Salvation Army text either “japan” or “quake” to 80888.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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