Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Here are some excerpts from a letter to La Vanguardia by a fellow living in Charlotte, North Carolina, named Juan Mullerat. He says:

How can a country which considers itself the main world power leave its people without electricity?...Thousands of businesses are still without electricity in the middle of chaos, they say worse than Hurricane Hugo which happened a few years ago. Almost 1.6 million homes are without heating...shopping centers looked like ghost towns last night...A technologically advanced country, the majority of whose people think they live in Utopia, is now living in the 19th century or worse, because "we weren't ready". A representative of Duke Power said yesterday that all repairs would not be finished for 12 days! Obviously I live in a "ghost country", in the two meanings of the term. (The word ghost, or fantasma, in Spain means someone who talks big but does little.)

Juan, let me explain something to you. You have been in a FREAKIN' ICE STORM. Ice storms are unusual but happen every few years, and I can tell you that it gets scary when the lights go off and they cut off the gas and the trees and power lines start crashing. It's even scarier if you're racing one driving up through Oklahoma and it catches you at about Lamar, Missouri. Trust me. Good thing my sister was driving because I'd have slid us off the road and we'd have had to wait for the snowplow and tow truck guys, who might not have gotten to us for a good few hours. What you do if you live in America is be prepared for freaks of nature like tornadoes and hurricanes and blizzards and have a few cans of food, a lighter, a flashlight, a few candles, a battery radio, spare batteries, and a couple of bottles of water on hand. There's nothing you can do to stop an ice storm, and there's nothing you can do to alleviate its effects. The trees and power lines are going to come down and people are going to get killed. The best way to avoid getting killed is to just stay home until everything's pretty much over, which shouldn't take more than a couple of days. Then there is all kinds of junk all over the streets that has to be cleared up, and that's hard and dangerous work because of the power lines, which in their turn have to be put back up and reconnected. There's no way to speed up the needed work, and thank God those guys know what they're doing, because I sure wouldn't know what to do and would get myself electrocuted or crushed by a falling branch.

Juan, I guess what I'm trying to say is take a little responsibility for yourself. Be prepared for nasty acts of Nature, because Charlotte gets plenty of them though it has the sort of climate most Americans like best--four seasons, mild winters, a little snow but usually not much, not horrifically hot summers, and enough rain to keep the forests, fields, and yards green but not so much that you don't see the sun three days out of four.

Here is a fairly random sample of recent weather disasters in the US, from the World Almanac.

2001--Tropical Storm Allison, $5 billion damage, 41 dead.
2000--Drought / Heat Wave, $4 billion, 140 dead.
2000--Western Fire Season, $2 billion, 0 dead.
1999--Hurricane Floyd, $6 billion, 77 dead.
1999--Oklahoma-Kansas Tornadoes, $1.1 billion, 55 dead.
1998--Texas Flood, $1 billion, 31 dead.
1998--Northeast Ice Storm, $1.4 billion, 16 dead.
1997--Mississippi-Ohio Valleys Tornadoes and Flood, $1 billion, 67 dead.
1997--West Coast Flood, $3 billion, 36 dead.
1996--Hurricane Fran, $5 billion, 37 dead.
1996--Blizzard of ´96 and Flood, $3 billion, 187 dead.
1995--Hurricane Opal, $3.3 billion, 27 dead.
1995--Southern Storms and Flood, $6.6 billion, 32 dead.
1994--Western Fire Season, $1.1 billion, ? dead.
1994--Southeast Ice Storm, $3.3 billion, 9 dead.

So, dude, like, stop complaining and find out how to volunteer for the cleanup. I'm sure they could use people, at least to serve coffee and donuts.

Here's the Washington Times story on the situation in North Carolina from two days ago. This clearly counts as a major disaster, with more than 27 dead and billions of dollars in damage. Meanwhile, here in Barcelona, the traffic lights still short out every time it rains (rained today; bingo, the light at Balmes and Plaza Molina went out and things snarled up badly before they got a cop to the corner to direct traffic), and the government is being accused of "not being ready" for the oil spill.

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