13. Redemption

What is Man?

Brother Samuel Barristar pondered the question “Is man a reflection of God”.  His conclusion came from the most ancient of biblical texts, the first chapter of the Book of Genesis:

It was clear that God existed before the beginning of the cosmos, and then in a flash created something that defied man’s understanding.  It was equally clear that He saw the newly created cosmos as a meaningless jumble of pieces, and moved to organize his creation.

When it came to the Earth, God created exquisite patterns.  He divided the day and night, the air, water and land, and the planet from Heavens.  God then created life in the form of plants, trees, fish, birds and animals.

God’s final creation was magnificent.  It was the making of mankind in His own image.  Man was given intelligence and dominion over the life and resources of the Earth.  But he was also cautioned that the temptation to accumulate and misuse knowledge would bring evil into the world.

Brother Samuel had not seen the abuses that preceded the extinction events, but he knew from the historical records that mankind had forgotten the way of truth and the importance of the soul.  God’s punishment for such transgressions had been horrific.

Salvation Rising

Life is a very stubborn thing that hangs on until the last hope is gone, and even then exists in combinations of molecules to be reinvigorated in some distant future.

Atlas Empowered’s plan worked sufficiently well to save the human species as well as critical scientific, technological and engineering ideas, materials, and equipment.  The vitally important core of governmental, religious, moral and cultural information had likewise been preserved so that it could be quickly used when mankind re-entered into a survivable Earth.  Finally, information on the nature of the extinction, the various alternatives to save mankind, and the successful solution had been enshrined in a nearly impregnable computer library.

Brother Samuel had been somewhat skeptical about wasting valuable space and resources on history.  His observation was that people all too often lived their lives with little references to the lessons of the past.  The significant discovery was that the complexity of life in the universe had grown even in the face of extinction.  The ultimate question was not whether God existed but how God existed in so many ways, places and times.

The Triumph of Sister Savannah

Throughout history, thirteen was considered an unlucky number.  Some curious souls asked why thirteen was chosen and what it meant to Atlas Empowered.  The choice was actually straightforward – Jesus and twelve apostles, one of whom was Judas.

Sister Savannah had been a strong advocate for the “Judas solution” as she called it.  Her work with the poor and downtrodden had left her with a strong sense of compassion for those in need of another chance.  She would often say, “Not everyone who claims to live a perfect life does so, and the most honest of people are often those who do not hide their flaws behind a mask of piety.  And, after all, if we who survive believe in biblical revelations, what is symbolically better than the thirteen.”

She also reminded people of the story behind “Amazing Grace”.  John Newton, born in 1725, was initially a man of little religious conviction.  His early years were much like those of Pierre de Sota – rebellious and angry.  He was eventually pressed into service with the English Navy and then sailed in the slave trade.  During one voyage, a massively powerful storm battered his ship, and in a moment of abject fear he called out to God.  The storm abated rapidly, and Newton was left with a profound sense of God’s mercy.  He devoted most of the remainder of his life to theology and the practices of the clergy.  “Amazing Grace” is considered to be the greatest of Christian folk hymns.

The Thirteen

When the time came, all who had been part of the initial cadre of 1,300 were long gone.  Only their ancestor remained to carry on the human race.  Like it or not, the original assumption that space and capacity for 13,000 people was sufficient no longer made sense.  Some had to leave regardless of the risks associated with the outside world.

The first step was to send a well-armed scouting team of thirteen men and women out into the wilderness.  These thirteen were given the best information possible about the compass direction that had the greatest promise for success.  They were to report back to the leaders of Atlas Empowered within thirty-nine days after departure.  If they did not do so, then it would be assumed they had perished.

Each 39 days another scouting team left the city.  The first team went to the South.  The second team ventured to the North.  The third to the East.  No one returned.  No trace of them was ever found.  The whole situation was reminiscent of the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke, Virginia.

With obvious trepidation, the fourth team was sent to the West – and thanks to the grace of God spared whatever fate had befallen the other teams.  The Empowered’s “westerners” explored widely and found beautiful lakes and rivers, fruitful plains, and majestic mountains.  There were animals that looked like the ancestors of wild cows and pigs.  There were birds in abundance and fish in the streams.

This foray, begun in fear, had exposed a grand territory as close to the paradise of the Garden of Eden as anyone could imagine.  After exploring for thirty-nine days, the western team returned to Atlas Empowered and announced success.

The One Hundred and Thirteen

The one hundred and thirteen were assembled, and given rations and a means to defend themselves.  Then with great fanfare, they were ushered into the new world.  The successful thirteen west scouting party was placed in the lead.  The remaining “one hundred” were to establish a permanent colony.

The hundred chosen consisted mainly of families.  To the Atlas Empowered leadership, it made no sense to separate a husband, wife and children.  Families throughout history had been the fundamental building blocks of human societies, and when families prospered, all of society was rewarded.

To make sure that every individual was fully prepared to colonize the land, Atlas Empowered’s training staff constantly taught a broad range of survival and civilization skills.  Anyone old enough to understand became expert at self-defense, agriculture, construction, healthcare, and equipment maintenance.  It was also recognized that each individual had a unique set of abilities useful in unanticipated situations, and those were identified and catalogued for future use.

The members of the groups were reminded of the importance of the individual liberty, the need for truth, and the necessity of a firm reliance on God.  They were cautioned that while danger could be anywhere, the greatest dangers were the ignorance of the individual and the arrogance of the group.

Confrontation

The extent of survival of other humans was unknown.  Since the North, South and East teams had not returned, the assumption was that they had been confronted by some unusual and deadly obstacle.  Speculation first centered on the idea that the Earth’s environment had not fully stabilized, and these teams had succumbed to storms, methane concentrations, unrelenting cold and ice storms, lack of a food source, a new disease or something outside the prior realm of human experience.  However, the West team had experienced none of this so speculation turned to the hostile remnants of man or beast.

During its initial foray, the thirteen members of the West team had heard strange howling sounds but had seen no evident of carnivorous beasts.  The truth of the matter was revealed when Brother Samuel spotted the tracks of what appeared to be men, horses and dogs.  Apparently, some nomadic tribes and possibly even villages existed in the outer world.

The one hundred and thirteen decided that the tracks should be followed regardless of the danger.  They reasoned that as an enlarged team, they were fully prepared to deal with almost any threat.  Fortunately, when the confrontation occurred it was more one of mutual curiosity than hostility.  As with the early settlers to America, strangeness in appearance was not an obstacle to the human desire for understanding and compassion.

Emergence

After a few weeks of meetings and bartering with the “outsiders”, the thirteen left the colonists and headed back to Atlas Empowered.  Interestingly, the “outsiders” apparently had a tribal name but it was basically unpronounceable – too long, too guttural, and too much like a howl.  It was easy to give them a nickname and they responded to it with unexpected glee.

Over the next few years year, the scouting team came and went from Atlas Empowered, depleting its contents 100 at a time.  The first 100 had clearly prospered under the guidance of the “outsiders”.  The integration of cultures and advanced technology proved much easier than expected.

The only disturbing information involved the disappearances of the original North, South and East teams.  Although the “outsiders” could not accurately describe what was clearly the stuff of legends handed down over generations, it was apparent that little if anything lived on the other side of what was called the “cruel” river.  If the previously sent Atlas Empowered teams had actually crossed this river, they would have entered a lifeless zone.  Brother Samuel wondered whether the entire zone was lifeless or whether the legends were similar to those of sea monsters that guarded the Pillars of Hercules at the mouth of the old Mediterranean Sea.

Because of this legend, a special scouting team was sent to trace and map the apparently benign Western side of the cruel river.  It was hoped that by doing so information could be obtained that would uncover what was creating the lifelessness.  Unfortunately, after spending an exhausting year exploring, nothing useful was discovered other than the fact that the “other side” of the cruel river looked much like the side being colonized.

The mysteries of the lifeless zone were to remain unsolved for generations.  It had been decided that repopulation of the Earth was a priority and the Atlas Empowered leadership would not risk scarce human resources in a blind test of survival possibilities.

Repopulation

Eventually, the entirety of Atlas Empowered was depleted of its people. Mankind prospered in the West and the population rebounded quite quickly under very favorable conditions.  However, it became an absolute necessity to provide room for an expanding population.  The “cruel” river had to be crossed.

The legend of the “cruel” river and the loss of the first exploratory teams had not been forgotten.  Thus a number of much larger exploration and settlement development parties were sent across at different locations along the river.  The choice of such large parties was based on the fact that the initial thirteen hundred members of Atlas Empowered had successfully survived, and it was postulated that such a number might be necessary to confront an unknown form of extinction.

As little as possible was left to chance.  All members carried weapons and special clothing to protect against environmental, biological, chemical, or even radiological hazards.  A special food supply was provided so that no one had to live off the land for nearly three months.  Because of the situation, transportation was mechanized and by foot.  No animal could be trusted to survive or avoid becoming an impediment.

But nothing adverse happened.  Although the land was devoid of human and animal inhabitants, it matched the West in almost every way.  Apparently the passage of time had resolved the problems that caused the initial three teams to disappear or perish.  The Earth was healed from the “cruel” river to the blue-green sea.  The belief was that this was God at work with his creation.

Large groups of people and animals, as with the old wagon trains heading West during frontier times in America, now headed North, South and East to settle old areas now become new.  Only one disappeared without a trace.

By Faith Alone

When the world lacks an explanation for a mystery, there is a tendency to either dismiss it as an anomaly or embrace it by way of faith.  The latter is particularly the case when the inscrutable does not yield up its secrets to scientific inquiry.

The “cruel river” disappearance was, of course, alarming.   Necessarily, search parties were deployed to follow the presumed direction of the lost group and look for any signs of a human activity.

An aerial search using manned balloons showed nothing unusual.  The land and water features were similar to all of the other territories being settled.

Ground search parties also fanned out into forests and thickets hoping that something was missed or not revealed by the aerial investigation.  One such party thought they had uncovered a path, but after further investigation it was but a natural feature of the land.  Samples of soils, dung, leaves, and even the air were collected and analyzed. There were no signs of a civilized presence or the passage of men.

Brother Samuel remembered one of the biblical phrases associated with faith,  “God moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform”.  Certainly that was the case here.  But maybe the more appropriate phrase was one from the writings of the Catholic philosopher, mathematician and inventor, Blaise Pascal.  It was “In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.”

Was that the point?  Were those who disappeared shadows destined to wander the Earth without the light of faith, or were those who searched for them without sufficient faith and, therefore, blind to the presence of those they sought.

The Life

Brother Samuel summed up the life of a man or woman who lived in faith.  His reference was the 23rd Psalm from the biblical Book of David:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

In the end, faith is all there is.

 

By the grace of God, it is finished.

Brother Samuel T. S. Barrister


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12. Recognition

Paradise Lost

Miracles are creations of the soul and spirit.  Although they can be experienced through the senses, they are invisible to those who will not “believe” in God.  It is in the richness of everyday simple miracles, the power of the phenomenal miraculous event, and the grand panorama of God’s wisdom that the Earth is seen in all its glory.

Unfortunately, when miracles disappear, the world is a much poorer place, and it was with great sadness that Joe’s perception was now one of soulless darkness and despair.

It appeared as if God had withdrawn his grace and mercy from America and the nations of the world.

The Wisdom of God

Throughout history, nations and peoples suffered when they abused religious and moral principles.  However, as civilization advanced, mankind had found it convenient to ignore the biblical lessons of the past.  The ancient concepts of sin and repentance were lost in a hedonistic rush to physical pleasure.  Forgotten were the warnings of an almighty God.

Joe remembered the story of the Tower of Babel from his childhood.  Nimrod, one of the great grandson’s of Noah, became a powerful leader of his people.   Unfortunately, rather than pay homage to the true God, he worshipped the sun.

Nimrod and his followers decided to build a tower to the sun.  Work commenced quickly and a great tower began to rise.  But then God intervened and delivered some important lessons.

The first lesson was that pride goes before a fall.  Mankind, rather than using what God had freely given, ignored His limits and became enamored of technological progress and man-made material things.  The second lesson was that God would prevent mankind from abusing His creation.

To undermine the Tower of Babel, God spread confusion among the tower builders.  He separated the continents, created multiple races, and gave each race a distinct language.  By making communications as difficult as possible, God prevented the corruption that inherently evolves when people organize toward thoughtless ends.

The Sands of Time

Virtually everything known to science had been thrown at the Gulf’s continuing disaster.  Unfortunately, regardless of the efforts, there was an increase in the number of horrific natural events.  To add to this chaos, undisciplined human attempts at problem solving had made things worse.

Brutal decisions had to be made.  A limited cadre of people needed to be set aside and protected.  A healthy mix of animals and plants, along with critical materials and equipment, had to be obtained.  All must be useful for hundreds or even thousands of years. Would a second “Noah’s Ark” be as successful as the first?

Assuming that the emerging extinction event was survivable, the world would at some point have to be deemed safe for the re-entry of life.  The hope was that repopulation could then occur and that civilization would evolve from the point at which it left off.   The prayer was for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to fall and never rise again.

The Dominance of Freedom

In far too many places on the Earth, mankind had been subjugated or enslaved by government.  People were not used to thinking for themselves let alone organizing to act.  This was the tragedy of political arrogance and governmental tyranny, and it affected far too many when it came to survival decisions.

There were, of course, places where liberty had not been oppressed.  Where a moral citizenry was empowered by their government to be self-sufficient.  These people could face the devastation of the here and now with an uplifting and hopeful view of life.  And it would be these people who would lead the world into the future.

The rallying cry of those who understood the importance of morality and liberty to a successful future world came from the Battle Hymn of the Republic:

As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free

The Return of Galt

In her internationally famous novel “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand introduced a heroic figure who advanced the causes of individual freedom and the right of individuals to prosper from their creativity and hard work.

John Galt was a counter-cultural figure caught in a society where a stifling bureaucracy, controlled by a corrupt socialistic leadership, undermined the idealism and goodness of mankind.  Galt despised this “culture” because it extolled the virtues of collective justice, made captives of free men, stole from the creative and productive, and promoted moral debasement.  In response to the flaws and failures of socialism, Galt persuaded the productive geniuses who powered the America to withhold their wealth creating efforts.  Predictably, socialism collapsed under the weight of its own selfishness.

In every age, a John Galt appears to remind mankind of its responsibilities, and to undo the damage done by excessive governmental interference into man’s affairs.  Joe Barristar adapted the words of John Galt when condemning the socialists and their ilk:

Yes, this is an age of crisis. Yes, you are bearing punishment for your evil.  But it is not man who is now on trial and it is not human nature that will take the blame.  It is you.  And if you wish to go on living, what you now need is not to return to morality but to discover it.

And he would often add, “Free men demand this”.

Atlas Empowered

Joe remembered the 20/80 rule that simply said that 20% of the people do 80% of the work regardless of its nature.  The Atlas Empowered society was built on this premise.

The question was how to recruit.  What criteria would be used?  Unlike the collectivist societies that pitted groups against each other, Atlas Empowered was to be built on individuals who demonstrated productivity, entrepreneurial success, courage, vision, and generosity of spirit.

The Empowered’s leadership realized that there needed to be some limited governmental structure.  Since the Constitution, with its Bill of Rights, was divinely inspired, it was chosen for this purpose.  It was recognized, however, that changes had to be made.  The Constitution had originally been built for a large, diverse, and scattered citizenry.

Since the spiritual and moral decline of far too many societies was obvious, the re-empowerment of religion became an important consideration.  All of the world’s religions had common themes, but only one had proved to be successful over time.  The book of that religion was the Bible.

There was no question that Atlas Empowered entailed a huge effort.  Thanks to an exhaustive study of the survival situation, it was decided that 1,300 people would be interviewed and recruited.  And every individual recruited would have to recognize that they would be in isolation for their entire lives, and their future families committed for an indeterminate period.

Location, Location, Location

It is impossible to hide from God and nearly as impossible to keep a secret.  Therefore, Atlas Empowered leaders decided to hide in plain sight.  Psychologically, this would acclimate the general population to the normal comings and goings of construction and manning.

More than one location was built.  This was done to prevent saboteurs from focusing on any one site and also to give those who did not make the final recruiting pool at least some form of refuge.

Potential recruits were invited to visit the planned location and then decide for themselves if they and their families could live a lifetime in such a place.

Each potential recruit was given a code that would be activated if and when extinction events posed an immediate threat to survival.  However, the chosen were not identified until the final moment – which came on the wings of a massive worldwide lightening storm.

As with the airline industry, Atlas Empowered’s selected site was deliberately overbooked.  It was certain that some would fail to make it to the site and others would recant their initial acceptance.  Regardless, once the massive gate was closed, those who were inside were sealed from the world.

Significantly, none of these first brave men, women, and children were destined to see the day when the Earth once again thrived for mankind’s use.

Civilization’s Direction

Civilization had promoted the growth of population by meeting human needs through technological efficiencies that favored centralized planning and decision-making.  However, a civilization based on centralization was no longer practical. The relevant question was how could Atlas Empowered achieve the advantages of a centralized past within a decentralized framework that favored personal independence and responsibility?

To inspire creative thinking on the question, Joe postulated a complex food supply problem:

Long gone automated factory farms had produced a food crop at a small fraction of the cost of the smaller family farms.  To achieve cost efficiencies, factory farms had used a specialized fertilizer industry.  How would an advanced but decentralized food supply system work, and what needed to be done now?

The food and fertilizer question was but one area where the dominance of centralized actions had created dependences and stifled innovation in decentralization.  Transportation, communications, climate control, water and waste treatment, electricity and lighting, manufacturing, heavy industry, safety, and security had all become centralized.  It had been assumed by the politicians of the world that cities could not exist without centralized support structures – this in the face of individual demands for independence and the empowerment of liberty.

Joe reminded his analytical recruits of a major dispute within the United States Navy about the aircraft carrier fleet:

The conventional wisdom was that aircraft carriers were an imposing presence, and were needed to project power and control the seas.  This argument was clearly one that focused on the importance of centralization to the success of the Navy afloat.

The opposing argument was that carriers were “high value” targets, and a single strike could send one, with its large numbers of aircraft and thousands of sailors, to the bottom of the sea.  Therefore, it was best to decentralize aviation assets throughout the fleet.

With tens of billions of dollars at stake, and the Navy hierarchy strongly opposed to an outcome that might put naval assets on merchant ships, the centralized argument held.  However, in the end, aviation assets were also distributed to other less costly ships of the fleet.

The message of the example was clear.  Centralization is not a panacea.  It can be challenged successfully, and decentralization may only be partially needed.

Joe Barristar – In Memoriam

Although Joe was one of the founders of Atlas Empowered, he was too old and ill to participate in its construction and operation.  Brother Samuel T.S. Barristar noted that from his birth in Philadelphia, through his life as an engineer and visionary, till his death in a place unknown, Joe was always a beacon of truth.

Joe left the following request to be used on whatever memorial might be created in his honor.  It read “Through faith all things are possible.”  To this was added, “Honored by the Way, the Truth, and the Life”.

Truth

The truth can be orphaned but it cannot be changed.  For Atlas Empowered to prosper, its people not only had to believe in truth but practice using it as if it were an independent power or even life itself.  It could not be a servant to any politician, government, ideology, technology, or financial interest.  Thus the first requirement of the new world was that truth must reflect reality and its distortion treated as serious affront to all.

In the past, truth had been treated as an unwelcome stranger.  Truth was feared because it disturbed the mind and undermined common sense.  Those in positions of power, once given to truth telling, became creatures who hid it under the guise of “protecting the unenlightened.”  Those few who spoke the truth openly ran the risk of being marginalized or even jailed as enemies of society.

Truth cannot be fabricated and it should not be embellished.  Yes, it can be hurtful and unproductive.  Yes, it is sometimes magnified by arrogance and other times hidden in a still small voice.  But truth, whatever it is and however it arrives, frees man to explore the realities of life.

The truth is not found in lies.  Pernicious and clever deceptions divide and conquer.  History is filled with the destruction wrought by the subtle lies of propaganda.  Lies must be fought as if life itself depended on it.

The greatest truths are absolute in nature, yet many people were coerced into thinking that truth was relative and without foundation.  God’s good Earth lay in silent contradiction.

All truths are not equal.  Yet many people believed that the inequality of competing truths did not matter.  If this were so, then how would anyone separate good from evil and judge right and wrong?  The convoluted answer of the past was that all must be tolerated and accepted.  Thus the enduring and ugly legacy of political correctness.

Truth is a blessing from God.  It shows His glory and majesty, and exposes mankind’s limits and need for humility.  It exposes collectivism as an enslaving evil, a denial of the human soul and spirit.


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11. Uncertainty

A Conflict of Ways

Charles Darwin’s historic scientific study, “The Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection,” changed the way man perceived the world around him.  The cosmos, instead of being the glorious creation of a living God, became a collection of randomly evolving energies and particles.  As Darwinism grew in popularity, the miracle of life became little more than an evolutionary curiosity, and God’s proudest achievement, human intelligence, the mysterious happenstance of nature.

The conflict between the forces of God and those of evolution resembled the great biblical battles between good and evil.  Those who believed in a living God saw a plan, a design and an order to the universe.  Those who took the purely evolutionary view claimed that scientific concepts like the “big bang” theory and measurements of the age of the universe explained everything, including molecules, molecular machines and all life.

The abuses of Darwinism were demonstrated in the 20th century.  To many elite progressives, lesser humans were a curse to the earth and should be eliminated to improve the species.  The resulting ideology of Social Darwinism led to Hitler’s “master race” and the genocidal slaughters of German Jews and “undesirables” in WW II concentration camps.

To those who believed in both God and Science, evolution did not inherently conflict with intelligent design.  As a matter of religious philosophy, evolution, with its naturalist perspective, gave greater glory to the wisdom of God.  Who but God would have chosen the conditions of the world to continuously change and advance the course of life?

Adaptation and Rejection

People are adaptable creatures.  They apply their intelligence and physical skills to every problem regardless of its magnitude.  But to Joe, nothing seemed quite right about the new normal.  Yes, the country and much of the world was shattered and in ruins.  Yes, man was working in many ways to recover.  But who or what was triumphing – man or nature?

Could a new equilibrium be reached that would allow stability and then progress toward civilization?  Centralized authority had all but disappeared.  New social groups coalesced for a while but then suddenly collapsed.

If there was any certainty, it lay in a belief in God.  Yet man in his arrogance continued to abandon God.  Would God return the insult?

Punishment from the Sea

One of the early post disaster questions was, “Could the damage in the Gulf event be confined to the Gulf?”  Those who initially thought this possible were quickly disappointed.  Oily debris saturated the Gulf loop current flowed into the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

As predicted, the loop current showed signs of slowing, once again raising the question of global climate change.  Ominously, what happened near Iceland was not comforting.  The sea ice was expanding at a rate that threatened to close off all sea passages in the Northern Atlantic.

What was a surprise, however, was the disappearance of key edible fish.  No one knew why but schools of tuna and salmon runs in Alaska gradually stopped.  This astounded the scientific community and was considered impossible by those who followed the sea and earned a living from it.  The fish had to be somewhere!

Crabs, shrimp, and other creatures that hugged the shore, likewise began to disappear.  This was more understandable as the oil washed ashore for decades.

Early in his adult life Joe had been curious about the biblical Book of Revelations, an apocalyptic writing that delivered its message in a coded form of numbers, symbols, and images.  He remembered that Revelations spoke about a beast that rose out of the sea.  It had seven heads and ten horns, each with crowns.  The beast was given the stealth of a leopard, the strength of a bear, the majesty of a lion and the power of a dragon.  This beast condemned the goodness of the Earth and warred against all that was of God.  Was this the explanation of why the sea turned against man?

Punishment from the Land

After the Gulf disaster, working the land was an absolute necessity.  Gone was the previously abundant food supply.  Shortages were compounded by the unpredictability of nature.  Years of cold summers shortened growing season.  Because it was nearly impossible to grow crops in large quantities, herds of beef and milk cows, flocks of chicken, and similar animal food stocks could not be bred or kept.

Joe remembered the science fiction movie “Soylent Green”.  Mankind had consumed all the farm animals and all the fish in the oceans, seas, lakes and rivers.  What was left to consume was too horrific to contemplate yet too necessary to be ignored.  As with the Stalinist Holodomor in Ukraine or the stranded Donner Party on the way to California, cannibalism became an unfortunate necessity.

But the land was not finished delivering its blows.  Every earthquake created panic, and every major earthquake disrupted and dispersed social groups intent on recapturing the smallest opportunities to farm or ranch.

To add to the misery, the Anak Krakatau volcano exploded, spewing its own debris into the atmosphere.  Volcanic destruction was piled on existing devastation.

Joe knew that the book of Revelations also spoke about another beast.  This time from the earth.  The second beast had the horns of an innocent lamb and the voice of the dragon.  It brought fire from above and deceived those who witnessed its “miracles”.  Significantly, those who listened to the false prophets and charlatans of disaster were led to their doom.

Punishment from the Air

Because of the massive size of the American grassland and forest fires, the winds carried large and still burning embers across the Atlantic Ocean and eventually the entire globe.  No one could predict in advance where new fires would start.  Decimated military and police personnel were put on highest alert and given orders to assist in firefighting.  They were also given shoot to kill orders if some crazed idiot decided it would be fun to play with matches in the middle of Armageddon.

The atmosphere changed.  Concentrations of ash particles, methane and carbon dioxide increased to the point at which older people and those with asthma were slowly asphyxiated.  The healthiest of adults found it difficult to work the long days needed to restore some semblance of civilization.  Real rest was nonexistent, and play a luxury reserved only for the very healthiest of young children.

A priority was placed on creating oxygen enhancement zones.  What was left of the biotechnology community worked darkened days and starless nights to develop an artificial human lung that could increase the oxygen content of the “new” air.  Work began to create a genetically altered human being that could live with a lower oxygen concentration and higher methane levels.

Joe had been an expert in the area of carbon monoxide intoxication and the affect of reduced oxygen levels.  The normal atmospheric oxygen content is 21% of the air with the rest being mostly nitrogen.  The new atmospheric concentration was the equivalent of being at 12,500 feet above sea level.  Under these conditions, the efficiency of the human brain, organs and body is considerably impaired.  Mental confusion, short-term memory loss, and tiredness can lead to increased errors in judgment or work performance.  Headaches are common and persist indefinitely.  People working in such an environment must have access to oxygen on a regular basis either through a portable system or oxygen room, both of which increase the dangers of fire and explosion.

Shelter from ice, snow, fog, and rainstorms became absolutely necessary.  Moisture of unknown acidity regularly fell from the skies.  Tests were developed to determine if the rain could be directly used for drinking, and therefore captured in large cisterns.  If the rain proved to be too acidic, then agricultural crops were at risk along with any animals that were not sheltered.  Upon the cessation of a severe acid rain event, people were sent out to forage for any dead or injured animals before the meat could rot.

In the new normal, snow occasionally reached the equatorial ground where before it had only resided on the tops of the mountains.  Temperatures around the world continued to drop, and frigid conditions were the norm in places that had previously been considered moderate.

Joe knew that Revelations had no third beast.  However, the satanic trinity consisted of the devil himself, the son of perdition, and the false prophet.  And it was obvious that much had been done to damage God’s creation.

Beyond Mad Max

The “Mad Max” series of movies presented a dystopian nightmare world in which little was produced and scarce fuel the prize.  To a great extent, scavenging was a major factor in both the “Mad Max” world and the new normal.

As in the movie, the post disaster countryside was bleak and desolate.  Oases, supposed places of refuge, were few and far between.  Many contained sources of water so contaminated as to be instantly toxic.  Those survivors who were experienced knew that when the birds were not chirping, danger lay in the waters and in the shade of the trees.

The most obvious physical signs of a centralized civilization were rapidly dilapidating.  Government buildings, formerly the central features of many towns, lay in various states of ruin.  The “safest” were used as overnight shelters for people on the move.

Large plants and utility facilities, although incapable of fulfilling their primary function without power or fuel, could be fortressed.  Many were fenced, and many were easily adapted for defense in depth, having both high ground for sentries and small or hidden entrances to limit mass assault.

Roads were not maintained, yet they showed the way from what was to what might be.  However, caution was dictated as evildoers and crazies regularly patrolled most roads.  No one traveled alone, and if a group was forced to travel any distance, it was necessary for every individual, even a young child, to be armed and trained to kill.

The relentless forces of change drove mankind.  Earth’s remaining people concentrated in the increasingly scarce benign areas of the planet.  And, when necessary, individual groups fought to the death for their chosen ground and for scraps of life.

Small and Necessary

It was not only the biggest of things that were important.  In the “new” normal, many things previously taken for granted were items of great value.

A common box of wooden matches was easily carried – and an internationally recognized substitute for hard currency such as gold, silver, or jewelry.  Lighting a match meant warmth, ignition, and light.  However, lighting a match was also a challenge to be undertaken only in times of greatest need as the methane levels in the surroundings might be high enough to trigger a sudden explosion.

A simple test for methane concentrations involved keeping the equivalent of the proverbial “canary in the mine.”  A dead bird signaled a methane emergency and potential for massive explosions in the immediate vicinity.

The Road to Oblivion

Often forgotten in the Darwinist view of cosmos was that evolution was not just a step-by-step transition to the future. The passage of time was punctuated by massive random extinctions.  Species at the pinnacle of life could be crushed by but one event, and their place taken by something new and quite alien.

Science catalogued the largest of the prior extinctions.  All but one was related to massive climatic shifts and even that one, an asteroid impact, led to such a shift.

Joe mused, “Who would have thought that something as simple as an oil mishap might have led to this?”  The mass extinction records show that a large heavy meteor could threaten mankind, but just an oil spill and earthquake? God does have a sense of humor – and a sense of wrath.”

The Fears of Man

The American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when confronted with the obvious fears of a nation at war, issued the following challenge:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Joe mused, “If only it were that easy.”  Fear affects every part of the body, and prepares an individual for fight or flight.  Fear causes the heart to beat faster, the skin to sweat, the muscles to contract, and adrenalin to flow.  Even those rigorously prepared to think and act routinely in the face of fear cannot completely escape its onslaught.  And each person’s fear is unique and each person’s response specific.

Joe’s greatest fear was of being lonely.  Unfortunately, life involved living it, and change was part of the ebb and flow of the world.  His wife had died a few years earlier, mercifully before the Gulf disaster.  He knew that her love and concern for her children would have created great personal anxieties.  He would have hated to see her happy and open personality frustrated by the unkindness of a turbulent world.  Unfortunately, his children were scattered around the nation and one son was in Europe.  With communications silenced at the local level, Joe was left only with the daily interactions of those he happened to meet.

He did not need to be told about Kor.  It was obvious that he had disappeared in the maelstrom of the tsunami.  He also knew that Newman’s death had come at the hands of the Plague when it invaded the cities of California.  Pierre was destined to die a fiery death while fighting to rebuild a food preservation plant.  The methane had been concentrated because the land upon which the plant had been built was situated in a bowl shaped depression in the earth.

The only one left of the four was Sister Savannah.  She traveled constantly to minister to those in need and to spread the word and hope of God.

The tangible evidence of Joe’s childhood and previous adult life had been uprooted, scattered or destroyed.  There was nothing to replace these things in a world devoid of what he had known.

Joe remembered the meaning of the words of Winston Churchill.

“Value courage as a human quality.  It supports sympathy and empathy for others, strengthens morality and trust, and fosters a sense of humility and forgiveness.  Never give in to force or overwhelming might of circumstances, but only to honor and decency.  Prize integrity even if it leads to pain and death.”

Extinction Rising

Mankind’s extinction was still unrecognized except by a few thoughtful souls.  It was obvious that nature was winning in exorable fashion, grinding mankind’s future into the dust.  It did not matter that people would not or could not fathom their destiny in such nightmarish terms.  Joe knew complex situations brought with them a form of cognitive chaos with them, in the midst of what should have been normalcy were uncontrollable mysteries.

The facts should not have been ignored for such a long period.  No one had seen a bright sky filled with stars for years.  Starvation and disease, along with climatic extremes, ruled the planet.  Mankind, considered the most adaptable of creatures, was forced to conclude that adaptability in and of itself might just not be enough to insure the survivability of the species.

The Book of Revelations spoke once again.   The apocalypse was upon the Earth.

 

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The Frontier’s Edges

Something Old and Something New

As with the old frontier, people reclaimed the center of the country along the rivers and useable passages.  The more interesting of those reclamations were the fishing villages up and down the altered course of the Mississippi River.

As in centuries past, fishermen loaded the supplies needed for an outbound voyage to the Gulf.  Their suppliers arrived by boat or cart to stock the larger sea going vessels with anything useful for long voyages.  Other fishermen unloaded their catches while crowds of purchasers jammed together eagerly checking out what was coming off the boats.

What was hidden from view was the clash of modernity and antiquity.  Joe was able to catalogue some curiosities and odd happenings.

Revaluing Food

The entire commercial seafood industry was based on sail and oar power.  This meant delays and unpredictable arrivals, and shortages.  Many of the catches that came into port were suspect, contaminated by oily residues or partially spoiled by lack of proper storage.  Availability of a specific seafood item was uncertain and guaranteed quality involved a huge markup in price.  Speedy consumption was essential to maintaining the nutritional value of the food and to avoid the intestinal cramps and bowel diseases.  An intelligent buyer knew his ship’s captain.

Because of uncertainty, a cottage industry of “fish” people sprang up.  They would wait in line just to get product and then turn around and sell it to preferred customers.  The markup for their stand-in duty was phenomenal, as much as 5 to 10 times the purchase price.  Notably, the “fish folk” waiting lines could be found at the makeshift docks and seafood distribution centers scattered up and down the Mississippi.

Some “fish folk” pitched tents or set up small cabins to ensure that they could quickly get to a good spot at the front of the line.  Some formed teams to check boat traffic on the river.  Teams would employ runners to send a coded signal about the catch and, therefore, gain a line advantage.

As one might expect, there was a dark side to the “fish folk” situation.  Since gold, precious metals and other tangible valuables were required for someone to buy seafood, theft and strong-arm extortion took place.  Eventually, a voluntary police force ended up maintaining a full time presence around any fish distribution facility.

The voluntary police force became a permanent paid fixture of the docks after a number of women were raped and murdered.  Speculation, of course, was that some of these women had been caught line jumping.   Such behavior violated the code of conduct of the “fish” people, and forgiveness was not in their code book.

Revaluing Clothing

One good thing about modern clothing was often flexible in use.  Protection from flies, mosquitoes, chiggers and the tortures of sun, temperature and dampness was always an issue, and it required variations in the layering of inner and outer wear.  Modern clothing was simply more easily adaptable to climate and the needs of the wearer.

Unfortunately, unlike clothing in the old world, modern clothing was a consumable.  As a result, the art of preservation and repair had been lost to the hustle and bustle of a consumption-oriented society.  Long gone were the coin-operated laundry, street tailor, shoe repair shop, and even the knowledge of how to use a needle and thread.  However, these skills were needed on the edges of the new frontier because new clothing was too difficult and expensive to obtain.

One of the more humorous aspects of the clothing situation was the rise of the “Granny Brigades”.  These were older “white haired” women who many younger women assumed knew about the old skills of the frontier homemaker.  The reality was that many “Grannies” were just old, had learned their skills by reading a book, and really weren’t particularly practiced.

Revaluing Shelter

The homes built prior to the industrial revolution had been optimized based on the technology of the time.  There was no electricity, gas, or internal plumbing.  The modern home, therefore, had to be adapted to meet these antiquated conditions.

With the electric utilities damaged or destroyed, candles were substituted for light bulbs.  But candles were expensive, and the average candle burned out in a little more than an hour or so.  They were essentially useful for a nighttime dinner and to light the way to bed.  People only burned additional candles if security was needed or an emergency occurred.

Cooking was an adventure.  If you were fortunate enough to get the occasional shipment of propane, you could heat and even cook inside your house.  However, after a few houses burned to the ground when someone tried to cook in the undersized fireplace of the modern home, cooking went outside and away from anything combustible, including the cook.

Food storage was an onerous task, the damp environment of the Mississippi quickly lead to spoilage.  Air conditioning was the luxury of a bygone era.  Regardless of the difficulties, some enterprising souls would head North during the summer to bring back ice for a price.

Water treatment plants no longer existed so it was left to the individual and family to find a relatively clean source of drinking water as far away from any raw sewage as possible.  Bathrooms were essentially useless without running water so many were converted into storage, additional bedrooms, a library, or even a security area.  And bathing was severely restricted, a once a week luxury at best.

Eating out meant going to a neighbor for lunch or dinner.  Evening way stations for sleeping and bars for eating and drinking were few and far between, – and often dangerous places frequented by criminals and their hangers on.  If a traveler had to go to such a place, it was best to pack a close quarters weapon such as a multi-shot pistol or a large hunting knife.

Recreation went outside away from the “dead” radios, televisions, and computers.   Some folks had hand crank or solar portable communication devices, but their range was limited and service virtually non-existent.  Some enterprising and technologically astute individuals did try to rig up horse, man, or wind powered generators, but most modern electrical equipment required a controlled environment, clearly a luxury along the devastated Mississippi.

Protecting a house and family against creatures, large, small and human, was a real chore with the modern house.  Although generally tight when air conditioned and secure when alarmed, they became inviting opportunities to any and all when it was necessary to open windows and doors to capture a breeze.  The worst aspect of “modern home openness” was that it allowed people to observe what was going on inside and pick many different avenues for both stealthy and home invasion attacks.

There were, of course, “Survival Brigades” to teach frontier skills, including the “how to use” aspects of such common tools as a hammer, handsaw, chisel, wrench and level – as well as a gun or animal trap.  Joe was not surprised that many younger men had little experience with guns and traps.  Political correctness had been quite effective in suppressing anything to do with “uncivilized” violent behavior.  However, he was amazed that many younger men had never used a hand tool, apparently preferring to simply throw out whatever was broken or dented.

Survivability

The frontier’s edge was obviously a strange hybrid.  However, through its daily functioning in the harshest of environments, a great many questions about the adaptability of mankind were answered.  What was also brought to the fore were the issues and uncertainties that lay ahead, and how these would limit or prevent progress toward recapturing the best that civilization had to offer.

The lessons of the frontier’s edge were not without their observers.  There were a variety of alternative futures under consideration, and decisions had to be made as to how to proceed, and how to invest increasingly scarce resources in a potential extinction environment.


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10. Panics and Plagues

Panic

In ancient Greek mythology, Pan was a mischievous and illusive creature of the forest who enjoyed tormenting wilderness travelers.  Pan would hide in the bushes and then suddenly shake them, thus frightening the passing traveler.  As the lonely traveler picked up his pace to escape the unknown danger, Pan would quickly move to the next hiding spot along the pathway and repeat his behavior.  As a traveler’s fright increased Pan became more amused.

No traveler who had once transited the Greek wilderness would re-enter it without a sense of foreboding.  The word “panic” evolved to mean a sudden uncontrollable fear, anxiety or even terror.

The Locus of Panics

Dazed, confused, and in a fragile emotional and physical state, those who survived in the strike zones were desperate.  Panic could be triggered by something as simple as an off-handed comment.  Near riots would break out if a rumor spread that supplies and support were suddenly exhausted or unavailable.  While neighbors responded by helping neighbors, individuals in most cases were left to their own devices.

People outside the strike zones acted much like people in Los Angeles did when New York City and Washington were attacked on 9/11 by Islamic terrorists.  They were shocked and concerned, and thankful that they were not in the line of fire.  The churches organized massive charitable drives.  Armies of American citizens, reminiscent of the Crusades, formed lifelines that stretched almost unbroken from the East and West coast to the heartland.  The outpouring of needed goods and services was the greatest in recorded history.

The logistics of charity were more than daunting.  Travel routes were severed.  Communications were spotty at best.  Safety and security could not be guaranteed.  Government was often of little help, and in some cases resistant to help that differed from what was considered “lawful and normal”.  Nevertheless, in the spirit of the great migrations that settled America, the people who were least affected did what was right and overcame obstacle after obstacle.

Refugees

For weeks, and in some cases months, people walked out of the areas of devastation.  Remarkably, some had been in the clutches of the tsunami yet managed to find a secure spot with sufficient breathable air, good quality water, and food.

When survivors took their first tentative steps toward safety, they found that everything was flattened, gone – reorganized in some crazy quilt pattern.  The disaster left nothing recognizable.  How these most distressed of people found their way was beyond human comprehension.  Their stories of survival were mesmerizing.

But there were more than just refugees from the tsunami.  People came from the dust bowls, the firestorms, and the earthquake ravaged areas.  They came from the farmlands and plains, from east of the Appalachian mountain chain to the Midwestern towns and cities, and invariably from the Deep South. They were uncertain about where to go but knowing that any place else at least held the promise of something better.

The Gulf disaster not only destroyed lives and property, but civil society for a thousand miles.  A town of a few hundred suddenly became a way station for a hundred thousand.  Sparsely inhabited farmlands became mass camps.  Crops were so thoroughly annihilated that it looked like a swarm of locusts had been at work.

Tens of millions had died in the tsunami and a hundred million more had been displaced.  America now had at least a third of its population on the move and at risk.

Breakdown of Civil Order

Civilization involves the creation of efficient government, communications, transportation, energy, food production and distribution, finances, healthcare, recreation and, ultimately, security.  However, civilization is but a veneer that quickly breaks down under extreme stress.

In the population centers and the new heartland frontier, roving bands of criminals and thugs took everything perceived to be of value, vandalized what they wished, and committed horrific acts of rape, robbery and murder.  The result of disarming citizens and relying on a thin blue line of police was that gangs were able to take control of many smaller cities.  The buildings and pitch-black streets became the playground of the macabre.

The most significant long-term disaster problems were ones of scale.  The cities had the largest populations and the most complex social networks.  Suddenly, there was no water in the pipes.  No electricity in the lines.  No food in the stores.  No sanitation services.  No reliable communications or transportation.  No emergency services.  No police and fire.  Literally thousands of things previously taken for granted were now gone.  Essentially, modern cities, with their dense concentrations of buildings and populations, suddenly became dangerous relics of the past.

In certain key cities, martial law was declared and enforced by the military.  This was particularly the case where military bases were in close proximity to a major population center.  Cities like Washington, DC, the Capitol of America, received special attention, but it was impossible to militarily police the entire nation.  Essentially, the east and west coast corridors were protected.  Everything else was triaged, and large sections of the country were abandoned out of necessity.

Armed Camps

Obviously something had to be done.  With the government paralyzed and no longer in control of major parts of the country, and criminals everywhere, individuals armed themselves and began to create rubble-based versions of ancient forts and castles.

“Frontier” justice was applied without mercy.  Since there were no prisons; murder, theft and a violation of the Ten Commandments were a hanging offense – and the sentence was carried out immediately.

Strangers and unfamiliar groups of people were seldom treated well.  As was the case with Europe during the height of the “Black Death”, many strangers were attacked and killed outright.  Uncertainty was everywhere.  Trust was not a luxury that could be afforded if the opportunity to survive was to be preserved.

Since food, water and supplies were important, armed foraging teams would be dispatched to scour the area for what was needed.  A grocery store smashed and unrecognizable under a pile of rubble might suddenly provide a much needed stash of food or something of use.  However, every forage expedition was a risk, and any encounter almost certain to be deadly.

The saving grace came from the religious leadership.  Once forced into the background of society by political correctness, they emerged as the steadying hand of conscience.  As with the case of the miraculous survival of the New Orleans sisters, priests, and ministers became the conduit for the many large and small miracles needed to keep distraught people thinking and acting in a positive manner.  Where prayers were said, society tended to flourish.  Where they were not said, the bad lands of barbarism returned with a vengeance.

The Impact on Medical Care

What was initially unknown was the totality of the destruction of the medical establishment along the Gulf Coast and along the Mississippi.  As information and rumors poured in, an ugly picture emerged.

Hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices had been destroyed.  Medicines were scattered everywhere – most were missing labels while others had been damaged and rendered unusable.  Those medicines that had been spared and were recognizable were put to immediate use.  Antibiotics were in such scarce supply that a normal 10 day course for the worst injured was reduced to a single dosage.  The hope was that somehow more doses would arrive via the gigantic charitable lifeline.  If such was not the case, then a single dose at least improved the chances of survival in a fight for life.

The doctors and nurses were as affected by the destruction as was the normal population, and probably more so because they went into harms way to provide aid.  By estimates, eight out of ten healthcare providers had been killed outright, and the remainder were working and operating with injuries and illnesses that reduced their effectiveness.

The laboratories and lab technicians were useless in all of this.  The doctors simply had to make life and death decisions based on what they suspected or could do.  The most fortunate patients got doctors who had war zone experiences and were used to making quick and decisive actions.

Joe remembered the vivid images of hospitals near Pearl Harbor after the Japanese sneak attack that led to World War II in the Pacific.  The hospitals were overwhelmed with the injured and dying.  The chaos had to be managed. Nurses were sent outside the entrances of medical facilities to decide who could be saved, who would die, and who were already dead.  Armed military personnel were assigned to hospitals to prevent panicked crowds from entering and demanding medical help from a staff already overwhelmed by the diversity of medical demands and needs.

The concept of triage had evolved over time.  In WW I, it meant grouping the injured and dying at a central collection point.  By WW II, triage meant initial treatment and assessment by field medics before transport to a field hospital or other medical facility.  Later wars involved air transport and life stabilization.  Lucky were the fortunate few survivors who weren’t subject to WW I levels of triage.

The Plague

The Bubonic plague was one of mankind’s greatest enemies.  The Byzantine Empire was the to first record plague illness in the sixth century.

Then came the Black Death.  Spread by rat infested fleas, it killed by the tens of thousands as it spread from China through the trade routes to Europe.  Upwards of half the malnourished population of fourteenth century Europe subsequently died of the Plague.  Later, and fortunately lesser outbreaks of plague, happened in Spain, England and Austria.

The last great pandemic of plague started in the mid 19th century and ended in the early 20th century.  It killed millions in China and India before spreading around the world.

Joe knew that a children’s game he had played in elementary school had a sinister side.  “Ring around the Rosy.  Pocket full of posy.  Ashes, ashes.  We all fall down.”  The ring was the sign of plague.  Fragrant flower petals were presumed to ward off the evil vapors.  Ashes were what were left after the bodies of victims were burned – assuming, of course, they were burned and not left abandoned to rot in houses and streets.  Falling down was how quickly and virulently the disease killed.

Companions of the Plague

Joe was suddenly reminded of an old saying intended to bring luck to a new bride.  “Something old.  Something new.  Something borrowed.  Something blue.”  As much as it applied to a bride so it did to the rise of post tsunami disease.

The bubonic plague, along with cholera and typhoid, were something old, the bane of mankind for millennia.   But there were also new diseases that resulted from the over use of penicillin and advanced antibiotics.  Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, first discovered in the United Kingdom in 1961, was a virulent, deadly and difficult to treat bacterial infection that haunted hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, schools, gyms, illegal drug users and anyone with a weakened immune system.  Thus something old and new in the disease world was destined to ravage the refugee population.

But diseases were not just the bane of human beings.  Crop failures revealed an explosion of food blights. A highly contagious fungus that destroyed tomato plants spread North and East from the ravaged areas around the Mississippi River.  From the mid-Atlantic to Maine, the blight destroyed tomato crops.   Ominously, a strain of the blight that caused the Irish potato famine appeared.

Corn was also affected.  Water saturated soils in what was left of the Midwest farmlands encouraged the growth of Pythium, Fusarium, Diplodia, Rhizoctonia and Penicillium.  Seed decay, seedling blight and crown decay spread rapidly, thus destroying the reliability of corn as a stable crop.

Wheat and soybean crops had their own problems from evolved forms of ancient fungi.  The situation was so severe that the dire predictions of societal upheaval in the large cities became a reality.

Rice was the final nail in the crop failure coffin.  As one of the staples of the world food supply, rice was on virtually every breakfast, lunch or dinner table at some point during the week.  Yet bacterial rice blights were common and uncontrollable by chemical methods or quarantines.

But disease was not finished tormenting mankind.  Hoof and Mouth disease arose to affect cattle.  The boll weevil somehow returned to inflict major damage on what was left of the cotton crop.  Fruit flies, seemingly eradicated by genetic and sexual manipulation, once again savaged whatever citrus survived the tsunami’s surge into Florida.

Call of the Wild

Without the restraints of civilization to contain them, insect hordes, wild herds, and ancient predators began to spread.

Swarms of grasshoppers descended out of the sky blotting out the sun.  So numerous were the numbers that thousands of square miles and many different kinds of food crops were destroyed.  Joe noted that such “locust” swarms, containing tens of billions of grasshoppers were a well known problem in the Western half of the United State and Africa.  Such swarms had caused regional economic depressions, famine and major damaged to land denuded of foliage.

Mankind had grown accustomed to dealing with insect ravages through the use of pesticides or insect specific diseases and predators.  All of this, however, required a working set of highly specialized industries, and many of them had been destroyed or severely damaged by the Gulf disaster.

Insects were but one part of the problem.  Large herds of deer, unchecked by civilization, chewed up crops and encouraged the return of predators.  Wolves, hunted to near extinction in the United States, began to breed and move south to better hunting grounds.  Unlike the warm and fuzzy stories of wolves as companions, people found that wolf packs attacked anything and anyone displaying weakness – and children disappeared if they wandered away into the surrounding brush or forests.

Joe remembered one of the more infamous stories of wolf attacks. The Beast of Gevaudan created absolute havoc in France in the 1760s.  From eyewitness accounts, the Beast was a wolfish creature the size of a cow.  It had an extremely wide chest, a lion like tail and a slim head with protruding fangs.  Its jaws were so large as to be able to crush a human skull.  It was seen to be extremely powerful with measurements showing leaps of as much as thirty feet in a single bound.  The Beast had a particular taste for human flesh, and is credited with killing over one hundred men, women and children.

The murderous rampages of the Beast became so dire that King Louis XV commissioned France’s best wolf hunters in an attempt to track it down.  When they failed, he sent his own chief huntsman to find this mystical animal that was now stalking the psyche of all French people.  Eventually a large wolf, almost three feet in height and six feet in length was killed.  To sooth the concerns and fears of the French citizenry, it was stuffed and transported around the country for all to see.  The chief huntsman was greeted as a hero and given large sums of money, land, titles and various awards from the crown.

Unfortunately, it was the wrong wolf.  The Beast again attacked, injuring and killing over a dozen people.  Finally, a local hunter, Jean Chastel, accidentally stumbled upon the Beast and killed it, thus ending the attacks.

The wolves, of course, were joined in their predation by mountain lions and bears.  The coyote, an opportunistic stealth hunter, freely roamed every state in the continental United States.  The wild dog population literally exploded.  Packs of vicious and untamed dogs became a constant source of trouble and a real threat to human life.

The feral cat population increased as well.  The cats were useful because they hunted disease carrying mice and rats.  Joe remembered the dark ages when cats were killed because they were considered the evil companions of witches and satanic cults.  Quite a change as the post tsunami cat was at least given its due as a protector of the food storehouse.   However, a cat scratch or bite often meant serious trouble as opportunistic diseases flourished where hygiene was sacrificed to other human survival necessities.

The Road To Civilization

The endeavors of science had been focused on demystifying life on earth and throughout the universe.  Astronomers studied the skies and suggested that other planets, maybe even millions of them, had produced life and possibly superior intelligence.  Geologists and archeologists looked at prehistoric earth and found examples of prior cataclysmic events. The earliest discoveries of human skeletons revealed that the father of all man had come from the plains of Africa where competition between predator and prey was at its most extreme.

Mankind had apparently developed from a species living at the margins of life to the most important living creature on the planet.  This transition had involved the steady yet ever quickening process of challenging and then controlling other life on earth.  The domestication of animals, and their use for food, transportation, security and comfort was a key step in the evolution of civilization.

The control of both dangerous and injurious animals and other pests was absolutely necessary.  Questions of which were more dangerous or injurious, the lion, the rat or the mosquito, depended on which century of human progress was being analyzed.

In a final brilliant conquest of science, much of disease yielded to the biology of antibiotics or the creation of beneficial microbes.  The ultimate challenge was to protect a man’s life from the ravages of his own genetics.  However, the advance of science and therefore mankind was now in question.

The Solace of a Merciful God

Man is not ruled by reason alone.  Without belief, life is a sterile and mechanistic existence. Hope for the future makes life bearable – from the moment of birth to the moment before death.  Mankind needs a sense of something greater than himself, and that greatness does not lie in finite materialism or power over others.

When the government begins to fail the people, and panic sets in, who provides the guidance and the strength to persist?  Self-sufficiency is not built by the enslavement of a welfare state.  No scientific arguments can convince the American people that reason is sufficient in and of itself.

Religion, so often derided by the secular progressive, was the only thing that could provide hope in the face of devastation.  Thanks to religion, each individual, regardless of his or her situation and station in life, wasacknowledged to have a unique relationship with God and a specific responsibility for their time on Earth.

Sadly, many religious leaders had great difficulty making the transition from a figure of ridicule to an honored guide.  Silenced for decades, many preferred to remain passive.  It was a new breed of preacher, willing to challenge the ignorance and overbearing behavior of the American government that had arrived on the scene to provide comfort and leadership.

A single historically devastating event, anticipated in science and fiction, was a test of the future of mankind.  And there were no certain answers.


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9. Earth, Wind and Fire

Disaster

Accompanying any disaster is a set of secondary destructive events.  Certainly, the seas of destruction shocked Americans with their impact.  They were by far the source of the greatest immediate loss of life and property damage.  However, the planet continued to react driven by the forces released.

The earth would not remain still in the vicinity of the undersea event, or for that matter in the center of the country. The winds refused to calm themselves.  Fire was everywhere at first and then suddenly random and unpredictable.  Many were the tales told of oddities and strange events.

Earth

When the tsunami hit, the most significant impact was overwhelming flooding.  Everything was bulldozed and covered by water.  When the waters receded mountains of debris were concentrated in some places and utterly denuded land in others.  The Mississippi River unable to follow its previous course had cut a new channel – avoiding what had previously been New Orleans altogether.  The Mississippi also meandered into and through some cities and towns not directly affect by the tsunami waves.

The devastation of the land was further complicated by the chemicals in the water.  As the massive pools of tsunami water dried, salt and toxic chemical deposits were left behind.  Along with the loss of topsoil and the contamination of the ground water, once useable land was rendered incapable of agricultural production.  Essentially, not only were existing crops and fields of farm animals immediately destroyed by the waves and the river spill over, but nothing new could be grown with any hope of success.

The turmoil in the Gulf had been a surprise to geologists; however, the aftershocks were not.  St Louis, well inland, was struck by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake.  Vicksburg, the scene of one of the great battles of the Civil War, was smashed into rubble by another large quake.  The problems reached as far as Minneapolis to the North and Richmond to the East.  Over 100 cities and major towns sustained severe earthquake damage.

The Account of Vivian

“I was driving along the interstate headed toward Blacksburg.  All of a sudden the road just began to roll and twist.  I was fortunate to be near a rest stop and was able to pull off.  Some cars tried the same thing and just spun out of control.

The road on the one side looked up to the Blue Ridge Mountains and on the other down into a valley with farms and forests.  As I looked up the hill, the trees on the mountains began to slide away propelled by an avalanche of rocks.  Cars and trucks were pushed off the side of the road.  Others were buried.  Somehow, everything missed me.

Out of fear of what was coming from above, I shifted my gaze toward the valley.  Houses started to sway and then collapse. Masses of trees began to topple over as if being pushed from below by a great hand. Huge cracks opened in the earth.  People and animals were running everywhere.  Some just suddenly disappeared.

I sat for an hour and prayed.  I had been heading back to college at Virginia Tech, but everything I saw ahead of me was completely destroyed.  There was no way to go forward or back by car.  I eventually got up the courage to start walking away from the worst destruction.  Thankfully, I had not driven too far into the mountains and was able to climb down off the road and avoid injury or death from aftershock landslides.

I don’t know how many miles I walked.  I walked in light and then into early darkness.  At some point I saw some lights and figured that somebody was there.  When I got to the lights, there was a small house.  There was nobody, nothing but an emergency generator that had kicked on.

At least I got some water and a snack.  I decided to wait out the evening.  I stayed outside as the house didn’t appear too stable and more quakes were rattling things.

With the coming of dawn, I again started walking along the general path of what was left of the interstate highway.  The animals appeared crazed and disoriented so I was glad I had taken a shotgun and shells from the house.  I’m not a big woman, and waving the shotgun around seemed to discourage the more aggressive creatures, and some people who were acting strangely.

I tried to use my cell phone, send a text message, or leave an e-mail.  Nothing.  Finally, I found a gathering of people near the intersection of the interstate and another major road.  Together we walked, shared our stories, and prayed.  I reached Richmond after about a week.”

This is a verbatim partial transcript from the autobiography of Vivian Sauter.  She was orphaned a year later as a result of the tsunami’s after effect.  Strangely, she was related to Pierre de Soto.

Wind

The wind blew day and night, and carried with it soot, dust and burning ash.  As with the dust bowel in the southwest in the 1930s, dense clouds would suddenly blot out the sun and rush in to limit visibility to a few feet.

Breathing was nearly impossible.  Even supposedly airtight homes were of little use.  The dust found every crevice, and sweeping up became a morning chore.  People began storing clothes and food in plastic bags that could be zippered shut, although that quickly became self-defeating.  With the winds screaming day and night, men, women and children went crazy.

The impact of breathing soot and dust were relatively predictable.  If the lungs became clogged, death by suffocation followed.  If the lungs became clogged with dust and toxic particles, an agonizing but quicker death followed.

Joe knew the horrors of chemical warfare.   He had spent some years of his career working in the area of chemical, biological and radiological warfare defense.  He understood that most people, when asked about chemical warfare, mentioned nerve gas.  Sarin was the quick-acting nerve gas that had been used in the Japanese subway system by the Aum Shinrikyo, a terrorist cult that wished to bring on the apocalypse.

Joe, however, feared mustard gas.  First used by the Germans in WW-I, mustard gas was known as a blister agent.  When contact was made with the skin, pain to exposed parts of the body became excruciating.  Eye damage, including blindness, was common.  However, the real damage was internal.  Breathing in mustard gas caused an allergic reaction in the nose, mouth, esophagus, lungs, – and even the stomach and intestinal tract.  Individuals whose lung tissue was severely affected were sentenced to an agonizing death over the course of a few weeks.  The immune system was also damaged in a manner similar to radiation poisoning.  Infection was a major problem within a week of exposure.  Those who managed to live seldom fully recovered.  Many poison gas survivors of the first Great War were turned into invalids for the rest of what was a shortened life.

The Message from Douglas

“I don’t have much time.  Out of nowhere came this reddish and grey cloud.  Like a sand storm but whirling and twisting.  I stopped under an overpass, – but the winds crushed the car against the beams.  I am pinned in the wreck with the winds howling and growing ever stronger.  Breathing is excruciatingly painful and difficult.  God bless you my family.  I love you.  Doug”

This message was found by a wandering band of tsunami survivors who checked the car for food, water and anything useful.  It was preserved as a solemn testament to all of the lost souls who were never to be identified.

Fire

The fires that raged over the Gulf quickly spread landward. Forests and grasslands for hundreds of miles exploded into flame.  Towns apparently safe were suddenly engulfed in the firestorms that jumped miles in a single burst.  There was no way to handle the magnitude of the problem.  It would simply have to burn itself out.

And then there were the random and highly localized toxic and flammable clouds.  Concentrations of these clouds could occur in canyons, ditches, and buildings of all types and sizes.  Spontaneous and unpredictable explosions occurred.  At first these were linked to broken gas lines.  However, the explosions occurred far too often in unusual places, – the entire ninth floor of a thirty-story skyscraper or a storage facility without gas or electric power.

Joe understood what was eventually called “the random explosive” phenomenon better than most engineers.  He had worked with a senior executive who owned an apartment near the World Trade Center in New York City.  After the Islamic terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Center’s “Twin Towers,” the executive had been forced to evacuate.

When the all clear was given, he went back to his luxurious city apartment only to find the floors, walls and furnishings covered in a microscopically fine layer of soot and dust.  A cleaning crew was called, and the apartment was cleaned and then certified as safe for occupancy.  The executive decided to move back in after work

To see better, he flipped on the light switch in the entrance foyer.  His apartment exploded and the executive was fortunately blown back out into the main hallway.  Although he suffered no physical burns, the mental scars remained for years.  The apartment building had to be completely gutted.  It took over a decade for tenants to sign leases, and those leases were backed by safe occupancy insurance provided by the building’s ownership.

The Diary Entry of Steven

Monday, September 8 – Another late summer scorcher in Jackson.  Visited Concrete & Aggregate trade show in New Orleans.  Stopped by Environmental Conference to see what is going on.  Kind of dead.  No new clients or significant contacts.

Tuesday, September 9 – Same and same.  Did some internet checking on vacation opportunities in the Caribbean.  Puerto Rico looks like a good bet, but need to compare with British Virgin Islands to see what dollar will bring.

Wednesday, September 10 – Left N.O. and headed back to Jackson.  Strangeness in the air.  Just a feeling but can’t shake it.  Maybe the food was too rich.  Certainly didn’t sleep well.  Dogs are really going nuts all around town.

Thursday, September 11 – Decided to stay home.  Just an eerie and queasy sensation.  Animals just don’t shut up and wife hit a deer in the middle of town in broad daylight.  Deer don’t run in the day.  Kids are jumpy as well.  We all need a vacation and soon.

There were no more entries in the diary.  The earthquake, undersea landslide and dome collapse occurred at approximately 9:59 PM on the 11th.  Fire had quickly raced north and consumed Jackson.  The diary was found some years later by an Army ranger squad searching for anything that might provide some scraps of scientifically and historically useful information.

Miracles

Life itself is a miracle, and those of faith see the hand of God in everything from the vastness of the universe to the smallness of the quark.  Christians recognize the miracles of Jesus and the biblical truths.   And lest it be forgotten, America is the miracle that changed the world.

It was no surprise, therefore, when rumors of a small group of New Orleans sisters had managed to survive a forty-story tsunami and were now ministering to refugees.  Joe did not need to be told, but he was certain that Savannah Taggart was among the fortunate few.

Joe was once again reminded of the miracle of his co-worker.  How was it possible to have terminal brain cancer one moment and then be cured a split second later?  How was it possible to be cured by a vision and not a medical procedure?  Joe was thankful for miracles, both large and small.  They were the hope of life eternal and an ever-present reminder of man’s place in the universe.  And they would be greatly needed in the years to come.

Strange Tales

Mankind has longed believed in odd things – UFOs from outer space, the Abominable Snow Man, or Atlantis.  And, there was always just enough truth to spur inquiry using the latest and greatest scientific tools.  After all, no one of substance could forget that the fabled city of Troy had been found.

It was, therefore, not unusual that a new set of curious stories arose from the Gulf’s cataclysmic event.

Probably the most profound tale was the disappearance of the moon and its replacement by a cold and colorless star.  While this happened for only a few minutes each night for about a year, the common assumption was that something supernatural had happened.  The astronomers had no explanation.  The moon was obviously there but how could it change?  And stars are not cold.

There were, of course, numerous tales of ghostly images and people apparently moving in and out of time.  This latter set of stories was similar to the famous Philadelphia experiment.

As a young man, Joe had worked at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.  The story goes that the US Navy, as part of a WW-II experiment, had modified the Destroyer Escort USS Eldridge to see if a cloaking or invisibility field could be built around a large solid object.  This would obviously be of great use in naval warfare.

The experiment was based on Albert Einstein’s Unified Field Theory that suggested that the electromagnetic and gravitational forces could be uniquely related to each; other thus allowing light to be bent around an object.  The experiment involved the use of large ship installed electromagnetic generators.

Testing began in the summer of 1943, and apparently one test, on July 22, 1943, resulted in the Eldridge being rendered almost completely invisible, its image being replaced with a ghostly greenish cloud.  The experiment was considered successful – until a number of very odd things happened.

First, departing crewmembers complained of severe unrelenting nausea.  Then an onboard inspection revealed the worst aspects of the experiment.  A number of sailors were horribly mangled, embedded in the steel decks and superstructure of the ship.  Others found within the bowels of the ship were violently insane.

Over time, a number of the apparently healthy crewmembers became part human and part ghost, moving back and forth between the physical world and some unknown and inexplicable parallel universe.  Some of these unfortunates disappeared never to be seen again.

The experiment was reconfigured and then repeated on October 28, 1943. The Eldridge then vanished and reappeared almost immediately in Norfolk, Virginia hundreds of miles away. The Eldridge was seen in that location by men aboard the SS Andrew Furuseth before it then again vanished, reappearing back in its original dock in Philadelphia.   From the available data, the Eldridge was not only teleported hundreds of miles but traveled both forward and backward in time.  Unfortunately, the human problems experienced with the July testing were repeated and even amplified.

 

Some of the shipyard’s old timers swore that the Eldridge experiments were the basis for the stealth technology advances some 50 years later.

There was no lack of strange tales.  People mentally and emotionally unstable saw what they wanted to see, or what they did not want to see.  If such instability was severe, the people involved became aimless wanderers.  Unfortunately, there was little time for pity or compassionate acts.

In the Moment Lies the Truth

The government could not control the winds or put out fires that covered thousands of square miles.  It could not reconfigure the devastated landscape and wave a magic wand to replace the lost cities and towns.  As with the Gulf oil spill, which sacrificed the marshes to nature, the government was forced to accept reality, protect what could be reasonably saved and abandon the rest to nature and the goodness of man.

In an attempt to resuscitate the nation, the government solicited the help of the heavy industrial base of the nation and the world.  The irony was that the industries needed had long been derided as dirty, unsafe and politically incorrect.  The hated oil companies, the dirty shipyards, the land destroying mining companies, the earth defiling skyscraper builders, and thousands of businesses used to dealing with heavy industrial problems were the only ones with anywhere near the capabilities needed.

The environmental movement tried to reassert itself but the politicians, and more importantly American citizens, would have none of it.  To even begin the process of recovery, if it was possible, required the suspension or elimination of anything that got in the way of clean up and restoration.  Essentially, the “niceties” of politics and government were suspended in light of the dire national emergency still unfolding.

The question of how any of this was going to be paid for was left hanging.  The dollar was virtually worthless, or at least unable to be assessed as to worth.  The most innovative payment idea was payment in kind.  An industrial concern or group of individuals was given a devastated region or destroyed city as payment for clean up.  This was similar to the old British land grants given prior to the American Revolution.

Joe knew that the rule of law was sacred to the founders, but he also knew that the Constitution was not a suicide pact.  There were times in the past, such as the Civil War, when the Constitution had rightfully been suspended in the interest of the nation.  There were also times when the Constitution had been wrongfully suspended, and this had resulted in the internment of American citizens simply because of their heritage or race.

The American people were now challenged by the wisdom of the founders.  Government cannot consume too much and choose too arbitrarily.  It must be limited to allow individuals to find their way and their own solutions to the greatest of problems.


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8. Seas of Destruction

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.

Surface Chaos

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.

Reasonable Speculation

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.

Eyewitness Accounts

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.

 

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7. Devastation Below

As it Began

Transylvanian Oil had permanently positioned an ROV in the immediate vicinity of the shuttered well-head.  By chance, the ROV camera caught the initial moments of the massive undersea landslide that reconfigured the Gulf’s Mississippi Canyon.  It also caught the near simultaneous collapse of the oil dome.

From the limited video available, the undersea landslide did not occur explosively at one single point but behaved more like an avalanche.  It was slow at first and then gathered momentum in its titanic rush to the sea floor.  The oil dome collapse, on the other hand, was dramatic – a bubbling cauldron of repressed darkness.

The ROV video was instantaneously transmitted to an on-station ship and then routed in real time to a land based monitoring center at Transylvanian Oil’s North American headquarters complex in New York City.  It was fortunate that communications had been configured in this way.  The ROV was rendered sightless within seconds, and then engulfed and crushed by rubble.  The on-station ship was destroyed seconds later when the turbulence reached the surface.

Joe’s prior education stressed that ships were designed to float on water.  They could sink like a stone if buoyancy was suddenly compromised.  No matter how big the ship, whether a supertanker, battleship or oilrig, the replacement of water with a chaotic mixture of gases, liquids and particles would destabilize it.  And if this lower density “hole in the water” was big enough, the vessel would quickly disappear below the surface never to return.  To add to the immediacy of a vessel’s distress, its instability and sinking would be accompanied by a massive explosion when the rising methane and hydrocarbon gases were ignited by any flame or spark.  This sequence of events has been suggested as one explanation for some of the odd disappearances in the infamous Bermuda Triangle.

The relationship between this devastation and the prehistoric geological record was somewhat clear.  Large undersea landslides triggered by earthquakes had occurred in the Gulf, and one such particularly massive landslide had occurred less than 10,000 years earlier.  What was not known was whether earthquakes and landslides had ever triggered an oil dome collapse.

Joe was thankful that he was well away from the Gulf.  His first thought was “Funny the way things happen.  The situation was very much like the Islamic terrorist attacks that collapsed the twin towers and damaged the Pentagon.  Sudden yet predictable – and probably statistically suspect for months if not much earlier.”

Earthquake

The continental United States is quite seismically active with thousands of 3 magnitude quakes occurring each year.  Fortunately, in an average year, there are less that ten 7 magnitude or greater such quakes.  Generally, most of the notable earthquake activity takes place in the Western part of the country, but quakes do occur virtually everywhere.

The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 ranks as the most significant and memorable seismic event in United States history.  The loss of life was in the thousands and fire swept the city destroying most of it.  It is estimated to have been somewhere between 7.7 and 8.3 magnitude; – and it occurred on the San Andreas fault line which is still geologically active and capable of massive destruction.

However, the most significant series of seismic events to have affected the United States occurred along the Mississippi River and are known as the New Madrid earthquakes.

Over the course of a few months in late 1811 and early 1812, earthquakes registering from magnitude 7+ to about 8 struck in northeastern Arkansas and Missouri.  Although the final earthquake destroyed the town of New Madrid in Missouri, there was little property damage and minor loss of life – primarily because that part of the country was sparsely settled at the time.

The impact of these earthquakes was remarkable.   The Mississippi River flowed backwards for a time.  Some lakes disappeared and others magically formed.  Entire forests were uprooted as the land subsided under them.  Jets of sand were blown hundreds of feet in the air through fissures created by the quakes.  Rocks were squeezed so tightly that they gave off eerie spurts of bluish light.  The smell of sulfur was everywhere.  Shocked citizenry saw all of this as confirmation of Satan’s presence.

Strong shockwaves from the quakes were felt in Pennsylvania and Virginia.  Severe shaking frightened people in Tennessee and Kentucky.  Church bells rang in South Carolina, Massachusetts and Canada.  Sidewalks cracked in Washington, D.C.

The New Madrid earthquake occurred along a fault line that runs from Canada’s Saint Lawrence Seaway, through the eastern Great Lakes, and down the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys into the Gulf of Mexico.  Some scientists theorize that the New Madrid quakes were actually triggered by an event in the Gulf.  This theory was advanced in the 21st century when magnitude 5 and 6 earthquakes in the Gulf shook residents from Louisiana to Southwestern Florida.

Landslide

When most people think of earthquakes, they think of tectonic plates interacting with each other and releasing unimaginable amounts of energy.  However, earthquakes can trigger other events and a landslide is one of them.  When a landslide is on land, it is generally easy to see the immediate destruction.  However when a landslide interacts with a body of water, a chain reaction occurs that often magnifies the disaster.

In 1953, geologists observed that the mature tree line in Lituya Bay, Alaska, did not extend to the coastline.  In their place was a trim line of younger trees.  It seemed as if someone had logged the lower half of what was a steep slope and just stopped.  However, when the mature trees were examined, they displayed severe bark damage and scarring in the direction of the bay waters.  The scientific theory was that the culprit was an unusually large wave driven by a landslide.

This theory was confirmed in 1958 when an earthquake of magnitude 7.7 dislodged and dropped a 90 million ton block of ice and rock into the head waters of Lituya Bay.  The force of the impact created a wave over 1700 feet high – a few hundred feet taller than the Empire State building in New York City and about the height of the Willis Tower in Chicago.

In what can only be considered a miracle, a man and his son were fishing in the bay, saw the gigantic wave coming at them, were then picked up by the wave, carried over the trees, and finally washed back into the bay.  Amazingly, these individuals and their fishing boat survived.

Collapse of the Oil Dome

The Mississippi canyon looks a lot like Colorado’s Grand Canyon in that its rock walls are steeply sided.  It is nominally 4 miles wide and upwards of 60 miles in length, and lies a few thousand feet below the sea surface.  It contains numerous seafloor formations, including oil and gas domes, and provides a channel for sediment from the Mississippi and Louisiana basin

The sea floor sediment and other materials that overlay a natural oil or gas dome are miles thick.  They are buttressed by many tons of water immediately above.  It takes massive geological forces to breakthrough either from above or below.  Certainly a large earthquake or earthquake and landslide in combination could be sufficient.

When the oil dome collapsed, methane and hydrocarbon gases were released.  Driven by several billion barrels of suddenly depressurized crude oil, these gases exploded to the surface as if propelled by some supernatural entity.

Meanwhile, nature was attempting to seal the massive cavity created by the collapse.  Unfortunately, nothing could not stop seawater under tons of pressure from entering the cavity – where it turned into steam.  The steam in turn lifted what had previously been parts of the oil dome.  The displacement of water was once again terrific.

Collapse then rise.  Collapse then rise.  Collapse then rise.  The cycle repeated itself until the energy was spent.

More

The sounds of the explosions were the loudest sounds heard in the world of the 21st century – and almost certainly greater than the sounds associated with the volcanic eruption and collapse of Krakatoa in the 1800s.

The entire event was seen from a safe distance by a number of satellites.  The disaster data, however, was not initially made public. What the satellite camera’s had seen was turbulence and explosions hundreds of square miles in area and a massive churning series of gigantic “bubbles” in the Gulf waters.  Ships, rigs, boats, and aircraft in the area were “there one second” and then they were gone.

Joe was mesmerized when he saw video footage shot from above one of  the hellish “bubble”.  The video had been shot by a news crew just before their helicopter was incinerated in an explosive air blast.

Specialist in geological phenomena, consultants from the National Science Foundation and National Academy of Engineers, and far out “I told you so thinkers” were brought into the Department of Homeland Security for their advice on what to do.

Joe volunteered his services, but eventually ended up on television as a commentator.  The fact that his experience was largely irrelevant didn’t seem to matter.  The TV executives couldn’t find the top talent, so they were desperate for anyone who seemed technically savvy and could talk intelligently in front of a camera.

Speculation

The scientific community quickly noted that there had been two substantial earthquakes in the Gulf just a few years before the spill and now one huge one that coincided with the landslide and dome collapse.  Respected geologists suggested that the Caribbean Sea and portions of the Gulf of Mexico, rather than being geological quiet were actually a “mini-ring of fire” similar to the “ring of fire” that bordered the Pacific Ocean.

As might be expected, there were numerous theories batted about regarding the undersea landslide and collapse.  However, there was no specific agreement between the scientific and engineering talent assembled.

Most experts focused on the shallow yet massive 8.2 magnitude earthquake that was centered near what was presumed to be the southern end of the New Madrid fault line and in the Mississippi Canyon.  They theorized that the canyon wall landslide and dome collapse were independent of each other but both were precipitated by the quake.

Other experts thought that collapse of the dome was clearly caused by the megaslide not the earthquake.  Some seismic data seemed to support this theory.  The differences in timing and the distances between the earthquake, megaslide and dome collapse were sufficient to suggest that each event was distinct and possibly independent of the other.

A third group of experts believed that the canyon wall failure was triggered by the internal dynamics of the previously damaged oil dome.  For many years, geological anomalies in the immediate area of the shuttered well had caused concern.  Thus the megaslide was related to an unknown weakness in the canyon wall, and that weakness was created when Transylvania Oil attempted to access the crude oil below the sea floor.  The earthquake, therefore, was merely the trigger for what would have eventually taken place.

Because things were happening in real time and without much data, Joe reasoned that it was difficult to know for certain the way in which this disaster happened.  Therefore, almost any theory worked.  And, frankly, it was really an academic exercise to argue cause in the face of the horrific situation still unfolding.

When the initial analysis was completed some hours later, the scientists and engineers were stunned.  Clearly, the forces released were the greatest ever recorded or witnessed.

In an attempt to explain the disaster, one news network rapidly assembled a simplistic animation.  The news anchor’s script is considered an historical first account.  Based on reasonable assumptions and initial facts, it captured the undersea situation in a remarkably accurate way.

“In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and separated the seas from the land.  Mankind, in its headlong rush for modernity, abused God’s creations.  And mankind is beginning to pay the price for his arrogance.

A few hours ago, three things happened under the surface of the Gulf.  A massive earthquake, a subsurface landslide, and an explosive decompression of the oil dome that had been the source of the initial Gulf spill.

The animation you are viewing shows the beginning of the 8+ magnitude earthquake.  Secondary and large aftershocks continue.  The oil dome is in the center of the animation.  It contains a large oil pool at the bottom and natural gas, including methane above it.  The decompression of the oil dome releases both the natural gas and oil.  Being lighter than seawater, they rapidly rise toward the surface, expanding and mixing as they go.  The subsurface Mississippi Canyon landslide enters the picture from the left and smashes into the side of the oil dome.  Whether the dome collapsed as a result of the earthquake alone or in combination with the landslide is unknown.

The impact of this Gulf disaster is unfolding, but here is what we know.  Methane gas contained within the oil dome has reached the surface.  Fires and explosions have consumed ships, aircraft and oilrigs.  A tsunami of unknown impact is hitting the Gulf coast.  Stay tuned for further bulletins.

Perspective:  Spill versus Collapse

The Gulf oil spill was one of the largest oil spills in recorded history.  At around 150 to 250 million gallons of oil, it overwhelmed the previous Mexican Gulf spill by tens of millions of gallons.  It released nearly 25 times more oil than the historic Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.  It matched the Iraq War disaster in which Saddam Hussein deliberately torched his wells.  The only known disaster to exceed the Gulf oil spill lasted over a year from 1910 to 1911.  Known as the Lakeview Gusher, it dumped over 900 million gallons of oil into Kern County, California.

In truth, there was really no way to calculate with great accuracy the amount of Gulf oil spilled after the Transylvanian rig exploded, burned and sunk. The lighter hydrocarbons evaporated as a result of the sun or were dispersed by the action of wind, waves and chemicals.  The estimates of how much oil was left in the Gulf ranged from 25% to 80% depending on who was doing the calculations.

Joe reasoned that both figures had political implications.  The lower number tended to make the American people feel better and more secure about returning to the Gulf for recreation and the consumption of Gulf fish products.  The higher number was alarmist and supported the position of the environmental movement that oil and gas drilling was evil, and green initiatives needed more funding and a higher priority.  Not unexpectedly, Kor and Newman heavily supported the latter argument.

By way of comparison to the Gulf spill, the oil dome collapse released somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000 times more oil than the spill, and it did this in a few minutes rather than a few months.

There were no known events of similar geological importance and impact.  About the only thing approaching such a catastrophe was the biblical story of Noah’s Ark that some in the scientific community speculate led to the creation of the Black Sea.  The theory was that a great flood resulted from a volcanic eruption and caldera collapse in the Mediterranean Sea.  The initial tsunami, hundreds of feet in height, overwhelmed the land bridge between southeastern Europe and the mid-East.  The seawater from the Mediterranean turned the Black Sea, once an ancient fresh water lake, into a salty sea.

One thing for certain, based on prior oil spills, the billions of gallons of oil released by the Dome collapse would turn the Gulf into little more than an oily swamp for the foreseeable future.

Seconds Change Worlds

From his experience investigating accidents, Joe knew that a few seconds meant the difference between normalcy and disaster.  Accident after accident started in a relatively benign manner, and then a sudden shift of circumstances created chaos, injury and death.  A fall overboard led to death when a spinning propeller struck the back of someone’s head.  Gasoline spilled in a confined space suddenly ignited when a stereo was turned on.  Carbon monoxide, the silent and odorless gas, killed suddenly when a child played hide and seek under a houseboat’s swim platform.

The megaslide and dome collapse, while happening over a slightly longer period of time because of their magnitude, showed the same characteristics as the common accident.  One moment, nature in a normal and benign state.  Next nature at a level of chaos and ferocity never before witnessed.

Joe reasoned that when something of this magnitude and unpredicted nature happens all of humanity is destabilized.  Mankind has one foot in the past, and then suddenly, the other foot in the future – and there is no time to adjust.

Ripples in the Pond

Things bubble up in ponds.  Ripples spread revealing some things and hiding others. In some ways, the Gulf was little more than a big saltwater pond.  However, when what bubbles up from such a pond is thousands of  square miles of area and comes from great depths, the ripples are correspondingly large and of greater impact.

Large ripples suggested fundamental questions.  How would Americans react to something this unprecedented?  Would they succumb to reliance on more government or would they return to the individual freedoms given by the founders?

Large ripples can also provided answers.  Joe realized that the environmental movement was being rendered irrelevant and impotent.  By its insistence on stabilizing and controlling an inherently unpredictable world, the movement had encouraged the spending of untold trillions of dollars on the wrong paradigm of nature.  In focusing on the relatively easy issues of saving the polar bears from extinction and the land from oil exploration, it ignored the need to prepare for the natural macro environmental changes that would completely shift the Earth’s climate and directly impact human survival and all life on earth.

To Joe, the fundamentally misplaced priorities of the environmental movement were but one example of how America’s constitutional republic had been distorted.  Oppressive jurisprudence, legislative malfeasance, and unchecked executive arrogance had all played their parts.  Joe had seen a steady a deterioration of American Exceptionalism, – and his thoughts, like the ripples that reach the edge of the pond and spill over to disturb the land, remained ominous and full of dread.

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Trouble

The Deep Blue Sea and the Devil Below

In the immediate aftermath of the spill, there was considerable chaos which was followed within a few months by the triumph of engineering.  In reaching into the depths and sealing the leak, a teams of engineers and one unnamed plumber who suggested the solution were heroes.  Unfortunately, things began to change.  Subtly at first and then quickening in pace and magnitude.

Fishermen began to report odd surface sheens of oil and dead zones well away from the spill site.  Assurances were given that natural phenomena were in play and nothing of significance was happening.  Assurances, however, were not certainties.

Political pressure led Transylvanian Oil to re-deploy their growing ROV fleet although the once broken well-head showed no signs of a problem, but the ROV fleet did spot the fact that the subsurface pools of oil had shifted.  The assumption was that some unknown currents were in play.  The pools, however, did not respond in a manner consistent with any current.  They moved randomly, – sometimes slowly and other times so rapidly as to disappear out of camera range.

The first minor earthquake caused a bit of a stir.  It was a few miles from the shuttered well.  Again, nothing much happened, – although oil did bubble up in a coastal marsh near New Orleans.

The scientific community noted that Gulf earthquakes, while rare, happen and some in the vicinity of the dead well.  The word went out that there should be no cause for alarm.  It was simply a natural phenomenon once again at work.  The seismograph, however, did not remain still.  It recorded an increase in activity.

Joe was concerned.  From past experience and a knowledge base gained from personal study of the Gulf oil spill, he knew that shuttered wells in particular could create unpredictable problems.

The Gulf contained nearly 30,000 plugged non-producing wells.  This was about eight times the number of producing wells.  Most of these plugged wells were completely inactive, and most were close to the coast where access for repair was quick and straightforward.

Significantly, there was little experience with plugged deepwater wells.  It was assumed that such dead wells would behave like their near shore cousins, but there was no data to back this up as deep water drilling was relatively new and untested by the passage of time.

Many in the engineering community were concerned that the plugged wells were simply an accident waiting to happen.  Those with an environmental and geological background reasoned that each such well created a weakness in the sea bottom.  This idea was buoyed by a disputed study that mapped the sea bottom, and linked increases in geological activity to plugged well concentrations.

From Joe’s perspective, the world’s answer to post spill anomalies was “Where there is no harm, there is no foul.”  While oil seepage popped up here and there, the skimming procedures available to capture it were more than adequate.  The environmental movement and their political allies had seen to that.  And the oil companies wanted no bad media coverage if it could be helped.

Up until the spill, Gulf drilling activity had appeared to be in balance.  Oil was being removed without major incident and with minimal environmental damage.  Of course, the environmental movement wasn’t happy with “the rape of the planet”, but they could not convince enough politicians that there should be no further drilling.  Frankly, America and the world needed oil and natural gas, and the Gulf was a major supplier of those commodities.

Being in balance does not mean certainty.  Stability in the oil fields is a day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year and decade-to-decade issue.  The Gulf Oil spill demonstrated just how tenuous the balance is and how easily it can be shifted.

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6. The Gulf Cheasequah

Dimensions and Disruptions

The magnificent Gulf of Mexico was the ninth largest body of water on the planet, covering about 600,000 miles in area.  While there were scientific disputes about the origin of the Gulf, the most thought provoking theory was that it was caused by the massive cataclysmic asteroid strike that changed the environment of the Earth and doomed the dinosaurs.  The crater left in the Gulf sea floor was presumed to be the reason that the Southwest of the United States, once a sea floor itself, was now dry land.

The Gulf was mainly surrounded by United States of America and Mexico.  The American states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida all bordered Gulf waters and used those waters for commerce and recreation. The Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Tabasco, Campeche, and Yucatan also touched the Gulf and used that access for similar purposes.  The Straits of Florida and the Yucatan Channel to the North and South of the island of Cuba linked the Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean and its Caribbean Sea.

One great concern after the spill was what would happen to the Gulf’s Loop Current, a circling “river” of water within the Gulf.  Some oceanographers theorized that it could pick up oil from the spill and dump it into the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf Stream.  If that happened, the East Coast of the United States would clearly be at risk from oil and tar.

There was also some speculation that the oil spill had directly damaged the functioning of the Loop Current.  If this proved to be true, the global conveyor belt of deep and shallow ocean currents could be disrupted.  Resulting major climatic shifts could plunge the Earth’s continents into an Ice Age.

The scientific debates concerning the Loop Current and the spill raged on and on for years. Frankly, the many scientific studies and data collection efforts were based on ever moving, hopefully diluting, and difficult to characterize deep gulf oil pools.  Joe thought “Garbage in, Garbage out” as the problem was much too complex for even supercomputer analysis.

Economic and Societal Impact

The states and countries surrounding the Gulf of Mexico were among the most fortunate in the world.  The Gulf had abundant fisheries, substantial oil and natural gas reserves, and beautiful beaches that were complemented by generally warm and gentle waters.

Summer tropical storms and autumn hurricanes disturbed the otherwise benign Gulf, but atmospheric warning systems allowed people to hunker down or leave the areas of greatest danger.

Gulf Fisheries

The Gulf’s annual harvest of shellfish and other commercial fish was in the billions of pounds.  This catch represented between 20% and 25% of the domestic fishing revenue in the United States or over $1 billion in value.  The Gulf also supported recreational fishing and accounted for slightly less than half of the finfish catch in the United States.

When the oil spill occurred, it was obvious that the fisheries would be affected.  Fish swimming, breeding and feeding would be contaminated by oil.  Affected fish could not be safely consumed.  To prevent human illnesses, the federal government closed a large portion of the Gulf fisheries.

Sister Savannah was kept busy ministering to those involved with the fishing industry.  Although many had found work cleaning up the spill, their frustration and anger was an ever-present problem to their families and society at large.  To the folks who lived on the water, fishing wasn’t just a way to earn a living; it was a way of life that had been severely damaged.

Joe was not much of a fisherman, but during his childhood he had built a small wood hull boat with a friend who just happened to be the cousin of a famous racecar driver.  Joe and his buddy had also managed to repair a small outboard motor.

On the weekends, they would lather up with sun tan lotion and zinc oxide, and head down to the local boat launch just around sunrise.  If you wanted to catch Pompano and Drum, “early to bed and early to rise made your fishing a happy surprise”.  And if you didn’t get there early you found out to your dismay that the fish, as if by signal, stopped biting about 2 hours after sunrise.

Gulf Oil and Natural Gas

The Gulf was not only a productive fishery, but below its seafloor resided a tremendous amount of oil and natural gas.  Offshore wells produced 1.6 million barrels per day of crude oil and 1.9 barrels per day of natural gas.  This was about 10% of the total liquid fuels consumed by the United States.

At its peak, the offshore oil and gas industry employed about 60,000 workers working some 4000 rigs of all types.

    From left to right – (1, 2) conventional fixed platforms; (3) compliant tower; (4, 5) vertically moored tension leg and mini-tension leg platform; (6) Spar; (7,8) Semi-submersibles; (9) Floating production, storage, and offloading facility; (10) sub-sea completion and tie-back to host facility.

In the early 1900s, the first well was drilled in the Gulf just off the Louisiana coast.  This was followed within a decade by wells drilled in the tidal areas of Texas and Louisiana.   In another decade, both barge based and fixed platforms for oil drilling appeared, the latter being a mile off shore in 14 feet of water.  In the mid-1940s, drilling was pushed well out into the Gulf but still on the continental shelf.   As drilling technology improved and oil discoveries in the Gulf multiplied, production was pushed beyond the continental shelf and into deep water.

The Transylvanian Oil Company had drilled in Gulf water over 5000 feet deep because the Gulf’s shallow and near shore continental shelf had been placed off limits for oil drilling.  The Company had been fortunate that they were not forced to drill in the Gulf’s Sigsbee Deep at a depth of up to 14,000 feet.

Gulf Recreation

The Gulf fisheries, as well as oil and natural gas production, were not the only things affected by the spill.  Many recreational beaches were damaged, and even those that weren’t suffered from bad publicity.  After all, who would want to spend their vacation at a beach that smelled of oil and couldn’t be used for swimming or strolling without encountering tar that stuck to everything?

Joe suddenly remembered the good ole days when the bikini first hit the Florida beaches.  He was in high school, and the bikini changed the social dynamics between teenage boys and girls.  The most obvious result was that the pregnancy rate jumped followed by an increase in the number of “shotgun” weddings.  Notably, the birth control pill had not yet been invented.

There were the Twins.  Probably the prettiest girls in Joe’s high school.  Both dated the same muscular red-haired Harley biker.  The competition for his attention was fast and furious, and both of the Twins became pregnant. Since the father of the future children was well known, the only question was which girl would he marry.  To settle the question, he skipped town in the dead of night and headed rapidly west to find sanctuary with the West Coast branch of the Hell’s Angels.  The Twins were eventually married to a couple of mom’s and dad’s selected friends.  There would be no illegitimate children and no abortions to stain the reputation of that Catholic family.

Prior to the Spill, the Gulf coast was an environmentalist paradise.  Kor worked there regularly, and took most of his vacations along the Gulf.  One year it would be the Everglades.  The next the white sand beaches of the Florida panhandle.  Then the mysteries of the bayous, or the shell beaches of the Lee Island coast.

No one was surprised when Kor exploded in a meeting of environmental activists and key “Green” politicians, including Newman.  All agreed that something had to be done about the “oil problem”.  And all understood that without significant action the shadowy Earth Liberation Front would respond violently to this insult to the Earth.

Eventually, the visible remnants of oil and tar were cleaned up.  However, what lurked out of sight of the average tourist was an ecological nightmare of unknown impact.  Science, not “out of sight, out of mind” thinking, would have to provide answers.

Cleaning up the Mess

For all practical purposes, clean up was a defense in depth problem.  The first line of defense was at sea.  The second was near or on the beach.  Thousands of “defenders” were hired or volunteered in what was reminiscent of a build-up to war.  Initially, coordination was poor, but good people working together quickly came up with solutions that expedited the clean up process.

Danger, however, lurked in the oil and dispersants.  Those most directly involved with large masses of either had to be protected from the combination of toxic odors and summer heat.  Sometimes protective suits and masks were used; however, they restricted movement and quickly became claustrophobic.  Fortunately, the worst immediate health problems were difficulty with breathing and nausea.

The long-term impact of working day after day in the toxic fumes was unknown.  Medical officials reasoned that future illnesses would be similar to those associated with Hurricane Katrina or possibly the aftermath of the Islamic terrorist attacks that brought down the Twin Towers in New York City.

First Line of Defense

Ships, barges and boats were positioned to “surround” oil slicks.  Of particular value were skimmers that worked by funneling oil towards water-oil separation barges or concentrating it for burning on the water.   Large orders for skimmers flowed into shipyards, – with one shipyard reporting a jump in annual production from less than 5 to nearly 50.

Shipyards rapidly increased their hiring to meet the demands of around the clock work schedules for new construction skimmers.  Retrofit of shrimp boats, or for that matter any potentially useful boat, was also done.

There was considerable uncertainty about large pools of subsurface oil.  What was known was what could be seen on the surface, and that was about it when it came to the immediate aftermath of the spill.

However, in relatively short order, Transylvanian Oil obtained and deployed remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to get lighted video of the accident site some 5000 feet below the surface of the Gulf.  To news hungry reporters and television audiences, the ROVs provided insight into the damage.  The ROVs were instrumental in sealing the massive leak and in the subsequent exploration of the subsurface oil pools.  The ROVs were the stars of a rather ugly scene.

As an engineering apprentice, Joe had worked on the design of the Navy’s first class of nuclear submarines.  These were the successors to the diesel submarines used in WW-II and predecessors to the ROVs.

Most people didn’t realize it, but submarines were “tight quarters” and “head knockers”.  Joe would get back from a design inspection dirty and sweating profusely.  He constantly wore a cumbersome hard hat to keep his head from getting bruised or cut as he moved about the sub.  Hard hats were also advisable for other reasons.  Shipyard workers were known to hide “up top” in the covered lattice structure that sheltered submarine construction – and “bomb” engineers below with tools or garbage.

When Joe analyzed the rig explosion and the destruction of the well, he realized that an old historic problem had once again reared its ugly head.  Drilling rigs were ships when moving around and structures when fixed in place and drilling.  Therefore, if the rig is moving, a licensed sea captain is in charge.  If the rig is fixed in place, an oil company rig manager leads the chain of command.

Just prior to the explosion that led to the spill, there was a rapid build up in gas pressure.  However, the captain did not activate the emergency shutdown because he was waiting for permission from the oil company manager.  After the explosion, confusion utterly disrupted the chain of command.  The result was an “every man for himself” situation and the lifeboats were lowered without any orders.

Second Line of Defense

Protection of the beaches or near shore areas ranged from the mundane to the wonderfully creative.

The mundane was obvious.  People walked along tar-affected beaches with pooper-scooper and plastic bag in hand.  Find an oily tar ball, pick it up, stick it in a bag and then do it all over again.  Not exactly the most challenging of tasks but an absolutely necessary one.

The image reminded Joe of the award winning definition of political correctness which was “ a doctrine fostered by a delusional, illogical, liberal minority and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end”.

Joe wondered who had the plastic bag concession.  Someone was making a ton of money.  And, once you had thousands of bags of sticky and sandy tar balls, what next?

The EPA and State government agencies designed and activated a waste management scheme.  As the first step, waste collection companies were hired and directed to place specially labeled bins on numerous beaches.  These bins were then filled based on a variety of debris classifications.  The various materials were ultimately sent to preapproved landfills by predefined routes.

Under the best of circumstances, oil approached by did not immediately reach the beaches.  Inflatable booms by the hundreds if not thousands of miles were deployed to keep the oil at bay.  Wave action could wash oil over the booms; however, as a stopgap measure, the booms worked.  Some near coastal areas experienced minimal oil overflow and other locations, not subject to significant waves, escaped damage altogether.

Barges were strung together to prevent oil from entering ecologically and economically sensitive water passages.  A towboat would position the barges across the mouth of a passage, and then move a barge to allow boats to move back and forth between a sheltered harbor area and Gulf waters.  Barge blockades were also used to protect smaller oil skimmers from the action of waves or currents.

Many wildly creative ideas were proposed.  Human hair collected from barbershops was suggested.  It could be compressed and used to absorb oil.  Polymers adapted from space exploration and advances in nanowires were suggested.  Transylvanian Oil tried a lot of different things, but eventually settled on what was practical and doable.  Sexy or interesting was the enemy of good and timely enough for the job.

One intractable problem remained.  There was no reasonably useful solution for cleaning up the coastal marshes.  Proposals to burn oil-coated plants, flush oil out of the marshes, mow the marshes and leave the plant roots intact, or fertilize the marshes to speed oil degradation simply weren’t practical on the scale needed.

Pierre Cheasequah de Soto

As his name suggests, Pierre was pretty much the classic American mutt.  French, Cherokee, Spanish, and a little Irish snuck into his genetic mix.  Pierre had bright red hair and an unusual American Indian face.  He was compact and sinewy with a muscular body that was perfect for a lightweight wrestler or boxer.

As a kid, his genetic confusion manifested itself in quirky and aggressive behavior. If anyone looked crossways at him, the fight was almost certainly on.  And fight he did from the Kindergarten on where he had bitten the arm of an older girl and then punched the teacher who tried to separate them.  A short suspension from school and a spanking had little affect.  Eventually, people left Pierre, or “Cheese” as he was called by some of very few buddies, alone.

Being alone was no big deal.  Cheese liked it.  However, being alone meant that there was nobody with enough influence to provide him with a sense of the rules of society.  After a scrape with the law, he was removed from his birth family and placed in foster care.  From there he went to a juvenile detention center where he refined his fighting skills and learned to drink people under the table.  To say that the guards weren’t paying attention was an understatement.

About the only thing that saved him from an early death or life in prison was a Mexican “tough guy” from the streets of Juarez who had gained enough experience to know that life was tough enough without the constant interference of bad decisions and actions.  Between the “tough guy” and then a truly sweet young gal, Cheese was turned into the Pierre he was destined to be.  A hardworking, not quite clean living, but solid American.

Pierre at Work

Pierre started his work life as an apprentice in one of the Houston boatyards that serviced the Clear Lake boating community.  As a young teenager, he had always liked to fish and tinker with outboard motors.  And, he was more than a little familiar with using boats as a way of escaping the local law.

The owners of the yard took a liking to Pierre and he quickly moved up to become manager as well as chief mechanic.  Everything appeared to be “going good” and he was “ace high” within the boatyard and boat building community.

Unfortunately, the boating industry was not the most stable business in the world.  When a recession hit the general economy, the boating industry was thrown into a depression.  The boatyard closed and Pierre was out of a job.

Joe met Pierre when both were called to consult on a boating accident.  Joe was the engineer and Pierre, between jobs at the time, was the mechanic with the instrumentation and “know how”.  They took a liking to each other and their skills complemented each other’s work.  A productive and lucrative, albeit spotty, consulting tandem was born.

Pierre’s next “permanent” job was quite a leap.  He became a trawler engineer.  The pay was excellent if the catch was good, – and Pierre lucked into working for the best of the fishing fleet’s Captains.  The problem was that the long days and weeks at sea put a tremendous strain on his growing family, and he nearly ended up in divorce when his wife briefly walked out over the frustration of trying to raise three really little kids herself.

From Joe’s observation, life on a fishing trawler involved not only long periods at sea, but also danger that lurked just about everywhere and at any time.  Even the most benign of sea conditions involved getting heavy machinery and equipment ready.  If the conditions at sea suddenly changed as a result of a squall or the maelstrom of a severe thunderstorm, the loss of the trawler and death were a real possibility.

Joe noted that the movie “The Perfect Storm” was a relatively simple interpretation of what could happen at sea.  Frankly, a hellish mix of foam, spray, and sudden shifts in the peaks and troughs of waves would create an unmanageable situation.  No captain could see where he needed to go, and survival would depend on the “amazing grace” of God.

The trawler business was uncertain in both time at sea and size of catch.  Pierre knew that he needed something far more stable to keep peace in the family and food on the table.  Thanks to a second good word from his old boatyard boss and a recommendation from the well-respected trawler Captain, he landed a job as an oil worker on one of the Gulf rigs.  Employed by Transylvanian Oil and tied to a regular 14-day on and 21 day off work schedule, Pierre thrived and added a couple more kids to the family.

Frustration

When the rig exploded and the oil spread, Pierre was initially unaffected.  The spill had occurred hundreds of miles away from his work rig and involved a Louisiana crew.  What he didn’t realize at the time was that the politics of the environment would eventually shut down every working rig in the Gulf and put his job at risk.

When it became obvious that layoffs would occur, and that he was one of the more junior guys, Pierre’s frustration surfaced by way of a fight at a local seaman’s bar.  Joe chuckled that Kor wouldn’t last long in a “knock down, drag out” fight and that Newman had better stay well away from the Texas Gulf region.  Joe also knew that Pierre would not be at all happy with anyone in an executive capacity at Transylvanian Oil.

Was Pierre behind it?  Joe doubted it, but oil workers are not known for their easy ways.  Therefore, when the wife of a Transylvanian Oil executive was injured by a “candy” box full of nails that exploded in her face, it was assumed that a message was being sent either by a disgruntled oil worker or an environmental nut case.  Joe’s bet was on the Earth Liberation Front.

The Spill and the Working Man

The great losers from the oil spill were the working men and women of the Gulf.  Unaware and ignorant of the background that led to the disaster, these folks and the rest of the American citizenry blamed the most obvious target – the oil companies.  Over time, however, the realization that the issue was much more complex began to seep through.  The politician and the environmental community were next to take the blame.

However, blame and recriminations were not solutions.  People around the Gulf and the nation lost their jobs.  They suffered waiting for compensation from the government managed, oil company paid relief funds.  The final indignity was when the price of oil and gas jumped substantially.

The ultimate question was when would the Gulf of Mexico and the local economies recover?  The oil that could be cleaned up by man or dissipated by natural forces was long gone.  The oil that lurked thousands of feet below the surface, in and amongst the marshes, and in an infinite number of hidden places along beaches and inlets was a different story.  As was the case after the Exxon Valdez spill, oil and tar remained for decades.  Nature took its time to repair man’s damage.

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