Posted by: Green Knight | April 28, 2011

Blow, Ye Winds, Blow

The death toll is 202 in six states so far from last night’s tornadoes in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and others.  Eight in Virginia at the tail end of the storm system.  I have a friend in Birmingham and she and her dogs came through it fine…people the next street over weren’t so lucky.  Always remember that after disasters the gas lines are often broken or untrustworthy, and drinking water is probably contaminated if the taps work at all.  I’m originally from San Francisco, so I’m quite familiar with earthquakes and what to do before, during, and after.  A big thing to remember is not to try to light the stove!  The main fire in the 1906 quake was downtown, but a smaller one started the next morning in the Western Addition neighborhood when a woman tried to make breakfast for her husband; the result will forever be known as the “Ham & Eggs Fire.”

Here in St. Louis, we’re not only in Tornado Alley, as evidenced by last Friday’s twister, but we are also in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, an ancient spreading center in the crust that cooled off.  There are quakes on it every day, in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky, but almost all are too small to feel.  Every now and then, though, one of those fault blocks under the straight part of the course of the Mississippi River settles, and big quakes occur.  The series in 1811-12 were some of the strongest ever recorded; the first one rang church bells in Washington, D.C.

Ironically, at 10 a.m. today, a multi-agency quake drill is set to happen here in town, with the secretaries of Homeland Security and Education due to attend.  If I were a betting man, my money would be on Ms. Napolitano cancelling and heading down to Tuscaloosa instead.  Frankly, I’m surprised that people in the Alley don’t have underground bomb shelters like the ones a lot of people had in their back yards in the ’50s.  In a quake, they’d be popping out of the ground, along with underground petroleum storage tanks, but in a twister they’d be a good thing to have.  If I ever win the lottery, my plan is to get some land and build a hobbit-hole, kind of like the one Simon did in Wales:  Pretty cool, huh?  Sustainable, too.

[quick quiz question: if a tornado is coming, which corner of the basement — if you have one — should you retreat to?]

There are always chemical spills, biohazards, and other environmental issues after any disaster, and some of my Hazwoper trainees will no doubt be working on the cleanup.  I gave 40-hour courses to several companies that worked on cleaning up after Katrina and Rita, and during an annual refresher course, one student told me that, a year after Hurricane Katrina, they were still finding bodies.  Not a pleasant aspect of the job, but somebody’s got to do it, and better if they have training.

Finally, don’t forget the pets and livestock.  Again, FEMA’s online courses for “Animals in Disasters” are worth the time, and free to boot.  The first two are for pets, and the third is for farm animals. Of course, it’s always better to already have these under your belt before disaster strikes, but a crash course is better than nothing at all.  One of these days I’m gonna get the Red Cross’s classes on First Aid and CPR for dogs and cats.

My deepest sympathies for the victims and families, two-legged, four-legged, winged or scaly (i’m a fan of snakes, lizards, and turtles).  You’ve been through it before, you’ll go through it again.  All that can be done is learn lessons and handle it better next time.  Best wishes.



  1. Thank you for the story! I read this when it was first posted but only just now able to post comments. Smartphone, my arse! I have to use my PC to blog “proper!”

    Again, thank you for the story and shedding light to the devastation in the Deep South.

    Pleasant Grove, Alabama

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