A-M u s i n g s

  Musings are thoughts, the thoughtful kind. For the purpose of these articles, a-musings are thoughts that might amuse, entertain   and even enlighten.

                                                                                                  State of Emergency

From afar, I have heard that Ms Dawn French is no longer our Manager ‘Par Excellence’ of Potential Disasters & Emergencies. She has, instead, moved to an office accustomed to real and frequent disasters that would blow the Richter Scale – the Prime Minister’s Office, where she has, apparently, become the Chief’s Permanent Scribe, and handed over the reins of emergency management to Dr. Anthony, who it seems is a daily disaster specialist, which, quite naturally brings to mind the year of 1906.

If we are to believe the Ancients of China, 1906 was to be a year of the Fire Horse, a time of grave unpredictability, a time when all manner of strangeness would occur. And in the morning of the last day of January there was indeed an enormous earthquake under the seabed of the Pacific Ocean, one of the greatest, folk said, and most powerful earthquakes that had, until that day, ever been registered. The shaking lasted for more than four minutes, and as many as 2,000 people died in the disaster. Thousands upon thousands were injured and made homeless, and countless villages and port cities were destroyed.

The effects of the huge traveling seas were felt as far away as San Diego; in Honolulu Harbor all the steamboats waiting at anchor were spun around and carried upward on an enormous tsunami.
The epicenter of this earthquake was some eighty miles due west of a headland known as El Cabo de San Francisco, in Ecuador. The island port of Tumaco, some thirty miles north of the Ecuadoran frontier in Colombia, and now a prominent oil terminal, was all but destroyed. It has been rebuilt and damaged many times since, a symbol of humankind’s inability to listen to the voices of Nature.

In 1906 Tumaco was a place where fishermen brought in sizable catches of tuna and sardines, and where traders hawked bales of rubber and pallets of cinchona bark, ready to be pressed for quinine. Both Ecuador and Colombia suffered grievously from the earthquake when several hundred miles of coastline, from the port of Guayaquil in the south to Buenaventura in the north, were devastated by four minutes of ground shaking.

Seismologists working in the 1930s, when Charles Richter created his scale of magnitude, estimated that the Ecuadoran-Colombian Earthquake of 1906 had a magnitude of 8.4, as high as anything then known; new calculations today suggest an even greater magnitude, of anything approaching 8.8.

Now you may be wondering where all this is leading. Well, sixteen days later there was another very large earthquake, this time on the island of St. Lucia, one of the four specks of Caribbean limestone, sand, and coral that made up what was then the British crown colony of the Windward Islands.

According to interpretations of the damage data conducted in the 1970s, this earthquake rated somewhere between VII (seven) and VIII (eight) on the magnificently named Medvedev-Sponheuer-Karnik Earthquake Intensity Scale, which is an intensity scale used to evaluate the severity of ground shaking on the basis of observed effects in an area of an earthquake. The scale was proposed by scientists from the USSR, East Germany and Czechoslovakia in 1964.

The earthquake had its epicenter in the sea off the northeastern tip of St. Lucia, and about twenty miles south of the French possession of Martinique. This event, in which buildings collapsed on both St. Lucia and Martinique, was felt in other islands, including Dominica, Grenada and St. Vincent. No one was killed.

A wave of lesser earth movements went on for two or three weeks, and for a while the ‘placid life’ of the island whose people produced, according to a Colonial Office report of the time, a heavenly confection of “sugar, rum, cocoa, coconuts, bananas, bay oil, bay rum, spices and sea island cotton” was disturbed. The colonial governor, who had his headquarters in Grenada, dispatched a Royal Navy warship from Bermuda to assist. St. Lucia was henceforth formally designated an earthquake-prone territory, ‘risky enough to be of note but not sufficiently dangerous to be abandoned’.

Sitting here, on the far side of the globe where I continue to be amazed how well things work, and how rapidly recovery takes root when once the correct seeds are planted in earth eager to produce, I wonder whether St Lucia under Dr. Anthony’s emergency and disaster management stewardship is still a territory ‘risky enough to be of note but not sufficiently dangerous to be abandoned’.

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