Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti's Agony

I can't help comparing and contrasting the devastating earthquake that has just stuck Haiti with the Northridge Earthquake -- which, come to think of it, hit almost exactly 16 years before the Haiti quake (January 17, 1994).  The actual epicenter of the earthquake was in Reseda, about ten miles beneath the intersection of Reseda Boulevard and Saticoy Street -- just a couple of blocks from where I lived.  It happens that the biggest industry in the San Fernando Valley is pornography -- in fact, the Valley could well be the porn capital of the whole universe -- so if there was ever a part of the world that does not deserve a break when it comes to natural disasters, that's it.   Yet, as violent as the Northridge Earthquake was (magnitude 6.7) and as much devastation as it wrought (72 deaths and $20 billion in damage), we were extremely lucky in many ways that the Haitians are not.

The Northridge quake took place on Martin Luther King Day at 4:31 a.m.  (For at least six months afterwards, I woke up at 4:30 every morning.)  Most people were not out on the freeways at that hour, nor hitting the malls for the sales.   Nobody was at Cal State Northridge, where the new parking garage was destroyed and other buildings on campus -- especially the Oviatt Library -- suffered heavy damage.  If the quake had happened just a few hours earlier or later, a lot more people would have been killed.  The earthquake in Haiti, on the other hand, took place at 7 minutes to 5 in the afternoon local time -- with just half an hour of daylight left for searching for survivors.

As much destruction as there was in the Northridge quake, most of the buildings in the Valley were built to withstand earthquakes.  I was fortunate to be living in a very solidly-built house dating back to just before World War II.  But imagine an earthquake in a poverty-stricken country full of lousy construction, and neighborhoods where the only real difference between pre-earthquake conditions and post-earthquake conditions is that before the earthquake, the rubble was standing up.  Hospitals, schools, jails, and even the National Assembly building, the presidential palace and the Cathedral came down.  Who knows how long it will be before all the missing are accounted for, and the toll is known?

 As bad as things were in the wake of the Northridge quake, we got back up and running fairly quickly.  My neighborhood never lost running water, and had power restored that night, although it was a week before the gas company could come and turn the gas back on.  Other parts of the valley were without water and power for several days.   Yet after these brief interruptions, service was restored fairly quickly.  The freeways that had collapsed in the quake were back up and operational in a matter of months.  We were fortunate to start out with a good infrastructure the like of which Haiti cannot boast.  The Haitians cannot hope to come through this alone.

In this country, we are so fortunate that even devastating natural disasters within our borders serve to highlight how fortunate we are.  Now we are in a position to share our good fortune with our devastated brothers in Haiti.

And keep praying for them, as well as for those who are risking their lives in the disaster zone to render aid.  One thing about an earthquake: it is never over.  They have already  had a large number of aftershocks, quite a few of which exceeded magnitude 5.0; and there will be many more in the weeks and months ahead.  Keep St. Emidius busy.

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