The earthquake was a 5.1 in magnitude, causing merchandise to fall off the shelves of stores — and, no doubt, causing Californians to wonder whether it was the first little tremor in the Big One that every resident of the Golden State quietly fears may someday be coming. The precariously lodged tectonic plates of the San Andreas Fault shift, the ground moves, and as the world rumbles, for a cold split second, everyone wonders how long it will last and how bad it will be. Then it is over, and life goes on.
I’ve only felt an earthquake once, and it was small tremor that touched Columbus from a epicenter that was far away. I can’t imagine what it would be like to feel the ground slithering and grinding before my feet. It must be a strange sensation — and also one that you just come to accept as a risk of living in California or one of the other earthquake zones in the world. Some of the world’s most beautiful places pose risks of hurricanes, or mudslides, or earthquakes, or floods, or other natural disasters. If you live there, it’s part of the tradeoff.
The astonishing verdict and sentence have been greeted with richly deserved outrage. It also is an embarrassment for Italy, the home of the Renaissance and scientific pioneers like Galileo and Leonardo da Vinci. It’s hard to imagine any modern, enlightened country concluding that scientists can be criminally punished for expressing their scientific opinion — particularly when it involves predicting something as obviously unpredictable as earthquakes. What’s next for Italian prosecutors? Criminal charges for inaccurate weather forecasters?
I was sitting at my desk this afternoon when suddenly everything started shaking.
It was a weird sensation. I suddenly felt the building swaying, and the air pressure changed and affected my inner ears. It felt like a wall of air was moving through the room, and I wondered if I was just imagining things. And then, in a split-second, it was over. We didn’t even have time to go outside.
The appalling devastation from the earthquake off the Japanese coast, and the resulting tsunami, is difficult to comprehend. You look at before and after pictures, you see photographs of rescure workers crawling through enormous masses of wreckage, you read about the horror of hundreds of bodies washing ashore, and the mind just does not compute the scale of the disaster. Boats tossed atop houses; cars massed together like toys kicked by an angry child, and entire areas wiped clean of buildings and people. The effect is staggering.
It is interesting to me that, in the west, the focus seems to be more on the nuclear power plants rather than on the devastation to the people and the countryside. I suppose that is because there is a certain fascination about nuclear power and its potential destructive force. Yet the destructive force of the earthquake and tsunami has already been delivered, and it has killed thousands and ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands. In view of that actual disaster, why should there be such interest in the potential disaster of a nuclear meltdown?
The nuclear power industry in America must be suicidal. We had just about gotten to the point where people were ready to talk seriously about building nuclear power plants again — indeed, where nuclear power was even considered a form of “green energy.” That time has now passed. Now, no one is going to want to have a nuclear power plant in their backyard — even if it takes an earthquake and a tsumani to trigger a possible core meltdown scenario. The news from Japan is just too raw, and too horrifying.