A Gigantic Wall of Water
After the sound and the bubbles, after the explosions dotting the surface, after the shock of seeing the Gulf dominated by flames, came a sinister and growing presence. From Florida to Texas, along the Mexican and Cuban coastlines, the forces of disaster approached with relentless majesty.
There had always been some dispute about how large a Gulf tsunami would be. Some thought if anything substantive happened, the wave train would be similar to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that produced wave heights of one hundred feet. Although, from available video, most of the Indian Ocean tsunami waves were of the twenty to thirty foot variety and pushed a few miles inland.
No one knew how much energy had been released by the earthquake, landslide and dome collapse, but that was not really significant to an assessment of the early stages of the disaster. What was significant was that satellite data showed tsunami waves over two hundred and fifty feet in height.
The first physical sign of what was going to happen to the Gulf coast was the sea receding for what appeared to be miles, revealing hitherto unseen portions of the continental shelf. Fish and other marine animals were left flopping on the greatly enlarged beaches. Boats were ripped from their moorings. People swimming in the warm Gulf waters were borne seaward.
When the water began to return, it came with great speed as well as size, and it carried the blackness and stench of churning oil. Cities and towns on the Gulf coast were buried by the onslaught. The tsunami traveled tens of miles inland and contaminated everything in their wake. When the waters receded, they left a scene of utter devastation.
About 15 million people lived in and around the major coastal cities. Another 35 million lived in the states of Texas, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana – and nearly half of them worked within fifty miles of the Gulf coast. Unquestionably, the loss of life was in the millions if not tens of millions. The economic impact was in the tens of trillions of dollars. This was clearly an event of biblical proportions.
Joe knew that tsunami waves had unpredictable characteristics. Sometimes the largest wave came when separate tsunami swells joined together on the opposite side of an island or peninsula. Essentially this meant that Cuba, portions of the Yucatan peninsula, the Caribbean Islands and even cities of the east coast of Florida could see tsunami waves many hundreds of feet high.
The southern half of Florida was going to be underwater. The tsunami would likely reach inland to Lake Okeechobee, Disney World in Orlando, and the Georgia border.
Just looking at a map of the Gulf, it was likely that Mexico would be nearly cut in half when the tsunami struck at Coatzacoalcos and spread across to Salina Cruz. Even Mexico City would be threatened.
From the standpoint of scientific curiosity, Joe questioned whether the Yucatan Peninsula would shield Central American land masses. There was simply no way to know in advance – even with the use of computer models that tried to reverse engineer the affects of the Indian Ocean earthquake and apply the result to oceans and seas around the world. How far could a Gulf tsunami progress? Could it travel across the thousands of miles of the Atlantic Ocean and still do damage?
Cuba’s Northwest coast could certainly absorb the brunt of the tsunami, but what about the low-lying and relatively small islands of the Caribbean chain. They would be submerged by any waves over 50 feet in height. The Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico would sustain tremendous damage and loss of life if not total destruction.
Tsunami warnings were certain to go out to Europe, Africa, Central America and South America. But at least there were a few hours to prepare not minutes till death and destruction.
Minutes to the End
Within a few hours after the collapse, news reports started to flow in. The confusion, as would be expected, produced some hyped and useless information, but the following is a summary of the most reliable of the reports.
The first major city to experience the wrath of the tsunami was New Orleans. Walls of water, some the height of a forty story skyscraper washed over the Lake Pontchartrain estuary and crashed into the City. There were no reports of survivors, and no way to report even if there had been survivors. There had been no official warning, and even if one had sounded or flashed across the news there was only time to pray, and it needed to be a quick prayer at that.
Mobile, Alabama and Fort Walton Beach, Florida had a few more minutes but realistically only slightly attenuated walls of water smashed both cities into ruble.
The tsunami wave spread out. In less than an hour Houston and Panama City were greeted by skyscraper sized walls of water. Essentially, nothing and no one between Panama City and Houston escaped total destruction. Again, where you were and just fractions of an hour separated nearly total loss of life from a small but enhanced likelihood of survival.
Cedar Key, Clearwater, St Petersburg, Sarasota, Bradenton, Tampa, Fort Myers, and Naples experienced wave heights of approximately two hundred to two hundred and thirty feet. The Keys and low-lying west coast islands of Florida simply disappeared. Again, chance played out when it came to survival, but the warning times proved useful to whatever life and authority remained after the destruction.
Miami was given about an hour of advanced warning but the tsunami hit from both the west and the east in a whirlpool of disaster. People heading north from Miami didn’t stand a chance even if they neared Fort Lauderdale. The first city on the eastern side of Florida to escape horrific tsunami damage was Daytona Beach.
The wave, of course, shot across the Gulf and into Cancun to the West and Havana to the East. It was now about one hundred and fifty to one hundred and ninety feet high when it struck, but with the warning time of about two hours, many lives were spared as people abandoned their homes and rushed on foot or by any available conveyance to higher ground.
As Joe had speculated, the Bahamas and small islands in the Caribbean were submerged and silenced, some permanently. He had missed the impact on Central and South America. The tsunami waves had sufficient height and power to nearly sever Panama at the Canal. It reconfigured the Central American coastlines of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rico. It struck the South American nations of Columbia and Venezuela where it destroyed a number of oil refineries.
Warnings were issued for the east coast of Europe. Unfortunately, these warnings underestimated the size and impact of the Gulf tsunami. Far too many people, instead of running to higher ground went to the coast to see things for themselves. The death tolls of the WW-II D-Day invasion were nearly equaled as the tsunami waves picked up some all too foolish Europeans and their boats and threw them against the Bluffs of Omaha Beach or the White Cliffs of Dover.
Africa, too, was struck by a larger than expected tsunami. However no reports of injuries or deaths were immediately available.
Since Joe had been an amateur radio user for decades, he decided to use his ham radio and listen. Americans on the land, on the sea and in the air began sending in eyewitness accounts of what was seen and heard. The number of accounts was staggering, and ranged from analytical to emotional – and to the panic of coming death. Some of these accounts are verbatim and others summarized.
From New Orleans: “Eardrums ruptured. Blood pouring out”; “People trampling each other. Streets filled with injured”; “Violence and panic on a massive scale”; “Spontaneous prayers on some streets”; “Huge black mass blotting out the sun”; “Buildings being toppled. Extent of damage unknown”; “People running but nowhere to go and no time to hide”; “Holy mother of God! Time running out”; “Eternal Father Strong to Save. Whose arms … .” Silence at the 10 minute mark.
From Texas: “Heard tremendous rumble unlike anything experienced”; “Dark mass spreading across surface of Gulf, no end in sight”; “End of the world. Absolutely massive”; “Wild horses and cattle are stampeding in fear.” Silence from Galveston at the twenty-three minute mark. Corpus Christi and Brownsville at the twenty-seven minute mark. Only major stations continuing to report were from Dallas and San Antonio.
From Florida: “How far will this mess spread?”; “Roads and bridges completely jammed. People abandoning their cars”; “Mass casualties. Emergency services overwhelmed”; “Heart attacks and strokes common. People left to die where they fall”; “All flights cancelled or diverted. Military only in the air.” Silence from the entire west coast at the thirty-four minute mark. Only major stations continuing to report were from Jacksonville, however, a wall of fire was advancing toward the city.
From other states: “This is hard to imagine let alone watch”; “Unbelievable demonstration of nature’s power”; “This should not have happened! Damn the oil companies”; “Can’t let the kids watch but they know something bad is happening”; “American military suddenly at DEFCON 5. Unsure if terrorist or other attack underway.”
The President of the United States spoke to the nation. He read the following statement:
“A massive breach has occurred in Gulf sea floor just off New Orleans. This appears to be a natural event. The federal government is assembling crisis response teams and resources. These will be deployed when the situation allows.
All aspects of this unfolding disaster are being monitored in real time at the White House, Pentagon and appropriate government agencies. Additional briefings will follow as more information is obtained and action plans put into place.
If you are in an unaffected area of the country, stay in your homes and off the roads to allow military transport to move freely to the cities, towns and villages in need.
Thank you, and may God bless America.”
The nations and organizations of the world also had something to say:
From the mid-East: “Anti-American riots underway”; “State of Israel at full military alert.” As Joe had suspected, opportunists would immediately use the disaster to act while the rest of the world was distracted.
From Europe: “Stock and other financial markets closing”; “UK, France, German and Russian governments are assessing the situation. Bank holiday has been declared”; “Chaos and uncertainty reign”; “Military on highest alert levels. Potential for terrorists to take advantage of the situation.”
From South America: “We sympathize with our neighbors to the North”; “Disaster affecting entire Gulf, Caribbean and North Eastern coastline. It will take years to assess the damage.”
From Asia: “Uncertain, but this appears to portend an obvious change in the world’s power structure”; “China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Korea have closed all of their financial markets.”
From Africa: Silence, or something that was indecipherable noise.
From Australia: “America has been our greatest of friends. We mourn for the pain and suffering of its citizens”; “All travel in and out of Australia has been shut down. Military is authorized to use force.”
Where were they!
Joe was safe in Virginia. He had been working on a maritime consulting matter and was now headed toward Richmond on Interstate 64 to issue a final report. He knew just from the scope of the disaster that it would take at least a century to rebuild the nation, and that would require the suspension of many laws and regulations that had slowed new construction to protect the environment, insure safety, and who knows what else. What man had tried to control to the finest of detail, nature had undone in a few hours.
Joe wondered about Kor. He had occasionally popped up on the newscasts in Tampa, Fort Walton Beach, Mobile, and, of course, New Orleans. Kor’s survival obviously depended on where he was, but Joe figured that with his luck, he would probably be found alive, standing amidst total destruction – and then become an even greater beacon of hope and support for Earth Mother and the global environmental movement. Hope, however, waned when a search of the newspapers revealed that a major environmental conference was being held in New Orleans in the French Quarter.
Sister Savannah was unaccounted for as well. Joe knew that she depended on God not luck for survival. And if there were any justice in the world, she would be found safe – and helping others. She was owed that much. Nevertheless, worry set in. She was likely a speaker or group moderator at the New Orleans’s environmental conference.
Congressman Cortez was from the West Coast. Since the tsunami occurred during one of Congress’ recesses, she was almost certainly in California doing some fence mending and gathering additional financial backing. However, Joe ruminated, you never know. Newman is a player in the environmental movement and she might have been on a junket to New Orleans. Joe was a bit uncharitable in his thinking as a hoped the latter was the case.
With any luck, Pierre was on a distant deepwater drilling platform. If so, he had heard the sound of destruction but the tsunami would have passed underneath as nothing but a large and fast moving ripple. The question was what happened to his family and five little ones. Had there been enough time for some type of evacuation? Galveston had experienced total destruction, but the force of the waves only went about thirty miles inland. Pierre’s house was on the northwest side of Houston, so there was a good chance that all were safe – although his wife’s parents, who lived in coastal luxury on Galveston Island, were probably not so lucky.
Red Grange was safe. He had long ago been relieved of the duties and position of CEO of Transylvanian Oil, and had been sent into Siberian exile to help Russia with her oil fields. His Transylvanian Oil successor, however, might not have been so fortunate. Where in the world was “what’s his name “. Try as he might, Joe was stuck trying to remember the name of Grange’s replacement, probably because he was the most monotone and least photogenic individual possible. This new CEO could put the reporters to sleep within minutes, and the public had no idea what any of his answers actually meant. In the world of crisis management, “what’s his name” was a brilliant choice – but brilliant doesn’t necessarily mean lucky!
Hell from the Sea
It is certain that in the billions of years of Earth’s existence, geological events of greater significance had occurred. There had been numerous swings in temperature taking the planet from extreme heat to a snowball. When life took hold, it was threatened by extinction events from within the Earth’s core, from outer space and from the dynamics of the environment.
In the unwritten records found in rocks and sediment, tsunamis had affected every continent. Some were obviously large enough to reshape the land and create seas and gulfs where none had previously existed. Some simply washed a few miles inland, cleansing the surface of whatever was in the way.
Unfortunately, the written historical records of mankind were sparse. And about the only ancient thing documented and minimally comparable to the Noah’s Ark story was the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD that wiped out Pompeii and Herculaneum on the Italian mainland. In truth, while locally devastating, these eruptions had no permanent affect on the planet.
The Gulf tsunami, therefore, was the first massive scale natural event to completely change the world and actually be recorded by mankind. In dwarfing the Indian Ocean tsunami, it created challenges never before experienced. It overwhelmed thousands of years of war, famine, plague and other miseries. It was more than simply death, it was a form of torture that would eventually affect every single individual on the planet.
Impact on American Society
The American democratic republic was founded on individual liberty, a limited central government, and trust in God. Service to the American citizenry was the foremost responsibility of public officials.
However, early in the 20th century, the Progressive Movement began to assert that government should be the caretaker and manager of the public. The argument was that every advanced society had need of a strong central government to efficiently deliver a myriad of complex products and services. Because of these secular socialistic inroads, the American people became increasingly reliant on the federal government, and many succumbed to the dependence of the welfare state with it many entitlements.
The tsunami, however, changed this reality. The solutions to its devastation could not lie in more centralized government. Decentralization of decision-making and action would become a necessity. Not unexpectedly, there was a natural resistance and even rejection of this forced reality.
In watching the debate, Joe realized that the tsunami and its aftermath could create two distinct Americas within one nation.
Progressive Americans would try to continue on with a powerful federal government, and its burdensome and counterproductive regulations. They would see the Earth convulsed and think of it as a temporary problem. “Let the Government do it”, so long ingrained in the psyche of many progressive socialists, would not accommodate the new reality. Sadly, these folks would not listen, think or accept the obvious need to change.
Constitutionally free Americans would see that the hand of reality had forced a significant reassessment of national behavior. This group would abandon bureaucracy and rely on themselves. They would demand hard work as the basis for survival. They would advocate for common sense decisions, and develop straightforward compacts and contracts to ensure equality of opportunity rather than equality of results.
Significantly, the devastated heartland would be the new frontier for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. America was God’s country, and a return to God was needed to provide the answers to what was to be daunting challenge.