Inside the Capitol

Saturday, January 01, 2005

1-7 Tsunami column revision

SANTA FE – The Southeast Asia tsunami is a reminder of the awesome power of Mother Nature that dwarfs any mayhem we are able to inflict on each other.
While we worry about al-Qaida attacks, North Korean missiles and weapons that Iraq might have had, Mother Nature hiccups and hundreds of thousands of human beings perish and millions are left homeless.
Scientists estimate the destructive force of that event equaled a million atomic bombs of the type we dropped on Japan – inflicting the most destruction humans have ever caused. We also are told the planet’s rotation was jolted, causing it to wobble a bit.
That jolt was felt halfway around the world in New Mexico. Seismologists at New Mexico Tech in Socorro say the 9.0 earthquake knocked their instruments off the scale to the point that they couldn’t tell where the peaks were or how big they were.
Although the quake was one of the four biggest in the past century, the ocean waves it created were much more destructive. Let’s face it, living near water is much more dangerous than living up here in the high desert. Most loss of life and destruction of personal property comes from water-related catastrophes.
Forest fires are probably our biggest danger here. We have some earthquake zones that haven’t given us any trouble, some flooding in the summer from mountain thunderstorms, and a modest tornado occasionally. Our only impact from hurricanes is a soaking rain. Tidal waves and tsunamis we don’t have to worry about.
Since the birth of the human race, large bodies of water always have been an attraction, For many good reasons, population has clustered around them. But it’s also the most dangerous place to live. Those fearing terrorist attacks would be smart to move inland because the possibility of death by water is much greater than death by terrorists.
And what self-respecting terrorist would want to spend much energy ravaging the sparsely-populated heartland? We should probably all give ourselves a big pat on the back for our foresight in living where we do.
Remember all those meteor disaster movies a few years back? The meteors always crashed into big cities, usually New York, although one did hit Phoenix. With two-thirds of the planet covered by water, it is much more likely a meteor would plunge into the ocean, causing tsunamis on every surrounding coast and much more devastation than if it landed on a big city.
The coming of the new year always seems to bring prophecies of an approaching Armageddon. Actually many Democrats began fearing that way back on November 3. Expect to hear that the flooding was the final sign that the end is coming or is a punishment for the affected countries.
We are hearing much about the tremendous need for aid to countries around the Bay of Bengal, a popular tropical destination for winter tourists from northern Europe. Hundreds of tourists are missing from Germany and every Scandinavian country.
But we are hearing very little about the devastated countries on the east coast of Africa. They were hit hard too, but don’t have the media coverage or political clout of Southeast Asia and so may not receive commensurate aid.
The world will be watching who comes to the aid of which nations and with how much help. After being criticized as pikers, the United States and others of the world’s richest nations dramatically increased their early financial commitments. But we still can expect the U.S. contribution to be compared with our daily spending in Iraq.
President Bush has been roundly criticized for taking four days to publicly express his sympathy to the people and nations that are suffering. That will provide our detractors with much ammunition.
This was one of the world’s great disasters. Its impact will be felt for years in ways we have not yet imagined.


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