"You can never anticipate just how strong the force of nature is, or the force of wind. It takes only one storm — strong wind, rain, or snow — and the things we depend on — the electricity, the computers — [go out and] suddenly we are back to the Middle Ages."
— NWCN Storm Coverage Commentator
The lights went out over much of western Washington and Oregon on Sunday evening, Dec. 2, and did not come back on until late Wednesday, the 5th, for most communities.
The "Pineapple Express" storm, named for its origin over warm waters near Hawaii, packed multiple punches. It consisted of two, rather than one, gigantic weather systems from old typhoons. It also delivered the second greatest rainfall in Seattle history plus hurricane force winds over 125 mph. Rain rather than snow fell on mountain tops that bolstered streams and vastly increased snow melt at lower elevations.
On Monday, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire declared emergenicies for 18 counties. Governor Ted Kulongoski quickly followed suit for Oregon.
Floods covered vast expanses of farm acreage, low lying towns, and even a portion of Interstate 5 between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. Sixty roads were shut down in Washington state alone, and only forty reopened by Wednesday. High winds knocked down power lines and trees everywhere.
Another view of the damage
Washington State officials now claim that total damage could number in the billions and require many months for recovery.
I observed the disaster from the vantage point of South Bend, Wash., a mostly white town of 1,700. Boasting itself as the "Oyster Capitol of the World," this coastal community has a large percentage of fishermen, lumberjacks, and farmers.
First, let me describe what didn’t happen compared to the Katrina disaster that hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in August 2005.
We did not see any online videos of a minority police woman pushing a shopping cart inside a local store while helping herself to loot alongside other looters. Nor did we see our town go up in flames like Los Angeles in 1992, or like so many major cities across America during the so-called "Civil Rights" riots of the 1960s. Although we got about a foot of water in many of our low-lying streets, we did not see any strange creatures (like alligators) munching on human corpses. Nor were there any Blackwater contractors in shades toting submachine guns in our streets or reports of National Guardsmen kicking down doors to confiscate firearms.
Considering the sad state of today’s America, all of this is in itself worth comment.
As a second "surprise," we actually had some National Guardsmen left in the state of Washington. It was refreshing to learn that after protecting Iraqi borders and Arab "democracy," our criminal leaders in Washington, D.C. were kind enough to provide a few leftovers for taxpayers in the Northwest.
The Iconoclast interviewed a top South Bend city official, who said that a National Guard helicopter flew in a back-up electrical generator to a nearby city of Raymond, Wash. on Monday to support its water and sewage treatment facility. On Wednesday morning, Guardsmen served 700 free hot meals at the local South Bend elementary school cafeteria, followed by 500 more meals that afternoon. By the third day of the storm, they also provided personnel to augment police traffic direction as well as patrolmen in humvees. By most local news accounts, National Guardsmen were on the ground serving a wide variety of missions across the state of Washington on Wednesday. The city official was satisfied with their performance.
The official said that his county showed no increase in burglaries during the crises, unlike some other Washington counties. Local people were generally calm and cooperative.
The first day of the storm, the South Bend area was cut off from the rest of the world by masses of fallen trees blocking virtually all highways and timber roads. However, within about a day, many roads were cleared as a result of the personal initiative of local folks who used their own chain saws.
Without electricity, gas pumps no longer worked. Cell phones no longer worked, either. However, telephone land lines still connected to the outside world.
We started to worry not only about our gasoline supplies, but also about candles, flash lights, batteries, matches, and other very basic commodities.
The second day of the storm, the local phone company sent everyone a pre-recorded phone message to conserve water. Rumors spread that since the electricity required to pump water into the city reservoir was out, our faucets might get shut off within hours. (It turned out that the city had enough water to last a week). In addition, the waiting line to get into a local grocery store increased from 15 minutes on Monday to an hour on Tuesday.
NWCN Television News reported that in Adna, Wash., less than 35 miles away, local citizens filled up an elementary school gymnasium in just one day with private donations of clothing and other items to help families who were wiped out by the floods. The local Ribeye Restaurant donated more than 1,000 sandwiches. This farming community was heavily flooded and had it much worse than South Bend.
As usual, the most effective first responders were local folks
The Iconoclast also interviewed Ken G., who had driven up from Los Angeles to western Washington to purchase foreclosed properties, and Gary L., age 60, who has spent 42 years running his own fishing business out of South Bend.
Ken G. faced fallen trees on the road leading south from Aberdeen, Wash. to South Bend. Fortunately, someone in a nearby car had a chain saw and just enough gas to cut through 10 different jumbles of fallen trees blocking the road in a six-mile stretch. Ken was able to make it to a local motel by late night to escape the wind and cold rain. At one spot along the road he saw a hill top where it looked like most of the trees had been blown down like match sticks.
Ken said that he found a man who was hiding a fuel truck in the South Bend area for back-up police use. He persuaded him to give up some gas to support gas lanterns and stoves at a local motel restaurant where local volunteers prepared meals for folks without food supplies.
Gary used his own personal chain saw to help neighbors get out of their driveways. In an area south of South Bend, he also saw a hill top whose trees looked as if they had been knocked down by a Mount St. Helens type explosion. He explained that this freakish devastation occurred only in isolated instances along ridgeline areas where patch cutting by timber companies exposed sections of forest with shallow roots.
Both Gary and the South Bend city official cited special privilege and bureaucratic arrogance as a contributor to disasters. For example, Gary has fished Alaska dozens of times, and is very disappointed with how Exxon’s high-priced lawyers got the company off the liability hook for its catastrophic Exxon-Valdez oil spill after three guilty findings and 20 years of appeals.
Gary said that both the fishing and lumber industries are unwisely regulated by bureaucrats who posture as experts without properly doing their homework. They often dismiss the advice of highly experienced and perceptive fisherman, lumberjacks, and farmers as "uneducated heathens" simply because they lack college degrees. As one example, 15 years ago, against the testimony of fisherman, state regulators declared that crabbing had been depleted. Only two years later fishermen brought in the greatest harvest in history.
Calling himself a hardcore libertarian, Gary said that while talent might rise to the top in certain organizations, anytime you lack accountability scum can rise even higher.
The South Bend official said that the main power line to his city had already been knocked out by three different storms on three prior occasions in a canyon just north of the nearby city of Raymond. A major reason for this repeated problem is that the Washington State Department of Natural Resources will not allow the power company to cut the trees back far enough away from the power lines so that they no longer menace them.
The official felt that local communities need to procure more of their own power generators and backup supplies so that they no longer need to rely on the state to farm them out in the event of a crisis.
Reflecting on local affairs near his home in Los Angeles, Ken said that private initiative also played an important role in stemming the recent San Diego fires. This included individuals who rigged hoses and pumps to swimming pools. In contrast, he said that government red tape prevented C-130 firefighting aircraft from responding in a timely manner.
Ken observed that natural disasters may not be our biggest threat. He is very concerned about how two million real estate foreclosures will come due in February as part of the national banking crisis. Man-made economic crises, special privilege, and conflicts of interest can lead to dangerous social dislocations.
David Ammons, AP political writer, reported on the 11th that Washington Governor Christine Gregoire was frustrated at the slow pace of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to the natural disaster. From Monday, the 3rd, when she first declared an emergency, Gov. Gregoire started meeting with afflicted families in most of the affected communities. She claimed that state agencies were actively involved from the very start.
In contrast, a joint FEMA field response office will not likely open until Wednesday the 12th or Thursday the 13th. Normally this FEMA response office is supposed to open within three to four days of a declared emergency. The head of the state National Guard, Maj. Gen Timothy Lowenberg, emphasized that the timing of the opening is decided by FEMA. Now it is certain that this office will not open until more than a week after the worst flooding.
Governor Gregoire said the she had expected FEMA to get a White House emergency declaration as of last Thursday, the 6th. She thought the process was facilitated by clearly documented damage figures and video. However, the papers were not signed until Saturday, and relief for individuals and businesses hit in Grays Harbor and Lewis counties was not authorized until Sunday.
Ammons noted that the authorization by FEMA on Sunday came only after the state’s congressional delegation flew FEMA officials around the district. He noted that Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Congressman Norm Dicks, all Democrats, are budget powers in Congress.
Governor Gregoire commented in frustration "We pushed as hard as we could."
My own personal perspective
Having written the Preface to the 2007 ebook edition of the right wing classic Civil War Two: The Coming Breakup of America by Thomas W. Chittum (first published in 1996), I saw the recent unpleasantries as only a small harbinger of vastly worse things ahead for most American communities.
Whereas South Bend was without electricity for three days, Chittum predicted back in 1996 that American communities will be isolated for months at a time once fighting reminiscent of the ethnic wars that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia eventually comes to America. Among other things, we have seen the rise of street gangs that can quickly double as small armies. On page 54, Chittum commented: "[Former] Attorney General Janet Reno has put the figure in excess of 500,000 gang members nationwide in 16,000 different gangs. She has said that in 1993 they committed 580,000 gang-related crimes." (New Jersey Star Ledger, May 14, 1996, p. 8.).
Chittum also noted that every day in California enough rifles and shotguns are sold to equip an infantry battalion. The state is now majority Mexican. Chittum provided historical studies of European countries demonstrating that once an ethnic majority slips below 75 percent of the total population, the odds start to escalate dramatically that the various ethnic groups will fission apart. In fact, whites have already dropped below 75 percent across America, and they lose between 1-2 percent of the total population every year. Simultaneously, personal, corporate, and national debt have been growing almost exponentially. America’s balance of trade deficits have continually deteriorated. Other economic indicators continue to flash red alerts that America is probably headed towards a major hyperinflationary economic collapse.
To face a major social crisis, my own personal acid test of preparedness involves a lot more than simply having plenty of stored food, water, gas, electrical power generating equipment, gold and silver coins, and other material necessities in reserve.
Instead, I look at early American historical episodes such as the "Overmountain Man" militia from eastern Tennessee who helped defeat British soldiers and loyalists at King’s Mountain during the American Revolution. Or consider the Texas militia that defeated the Mexican army at San Jacinto. Now that was real preparedness. These feats required a high level of community cohesion necessary to effectively deal with very high levels of social stress.
When faced with the threat of prolonged material shortages and open warfare, it helps to have not only adequate reserves of material resources, but also close community ties that involve shared ideology, culture, ethnicity, and other values.
It is our general lack of preparedness in these areas across America that is my main concern. Indeed, the real crisis is not over for me. In fact, it has barely just begun.
William B. Fox is a former Marine Corps Major with experience in logistics, public affairs, and military intelligence. He is a second year honors graduate of the Harvard Business School and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from the University of Southern California.
Link to his Preface to the 2007 ebook version of Civil War Two: The Coming Breakup of America.
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