In the very short 50+ years that I have been on the earth, I have personally witnessed volcanic eruptions, earthquake, tremendous fires, floods, tornadoes, even citywide unrest.
In 1968, my father was stationed in Misawa Air Force Base in Northern Japan, when we went through an earthquake that registered 8.2 on the richter scale. I remember that time vividly. I was in school at the time. I ran outside with no warning after I felt the first shimmer on the ground, a teacher running after me, first to bring me back in, only to end up running back into the building and escort screaming children out to the playground area just outside the school. I instinctively sat on the nearest swing, watching the chaos as children and teachers cried, thinking that their families had been wiped out. A rumor quickly circulated that a class had been in the library when the wall collapsed. Fear spread through the students and faculty like wildfire, as the principal declared that school was over for the day, and that we needed to go home. I wondered if I would find my mother dead, my dog wandering around aimlessly, only to discover that my mother was fine — the worst that we had suffered was a loss of water and a foam fire extinguisher that had tipped over to spray the entire kitchen with yellow foam. Mom was still cleaning up the mess as I walked to the door with my sister in hand, still crying and sniffling from our experience. I watched as Mom consoled her, remembering her laugh at our fear, saying that besides the fire extinguisher, the dog had managed to get loose and start fighting with our neighbor’s dog. I watched how our family pulled together after my father came home to make sure we were okay. I have been watching ever since. Fire broke out in the city, destroying half of it. Power was knocked out for over 3 months, while potable water had to be trucked in. We waited in lines for water and food for almost 4 months until we returned to the United States in late 1969.
I served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years, travelled to over 35 countries, islands, and rocks in 4 major oceans. I lost countless friends over the years, not in wars or conflicts, but on my native soil to auto accidents, unexplained accidents, unsolved murders, cancer, and even suicide. I miss every one of my friends, and had to learn the hard way that death is a part of life. As the World Wide Web and handheld technology has brought us closer together as a global community, we are witness to firsthand atrocities that at one time we would hear about days later on page 23 of our local papers. Natural events such as earthquakes, floods, even tidal waves might make the front page, but the stories of the survivors would soon be lost to history, or the special section of the paper for that week’s run.
I remember very clearly, in 1978, learning about the crash of PSA Flight 182 in my home port of San Diego, crashing into a North Park neighborhood in a huge fireball, killing a total of 144 people. I heard about the incident on the teletype out at sea…yet, did not experience any of the aftermath until my ship returned to port, as my fellow crewmates and I prepared for a trip north to Portland, Oregon for a major shipyard overhaul. My wife was sitting on the corner of Litton and Rosecrans waiting for the bus to go to work at the Subbase in San Diego. She happened to see smoke in the distant sky, thinking that what she was seeing was one of a boatload of arson fires that had been occuring that year. She would not find out until she had boarded the bus that a plane had gone down in North Park that day.
Little did I know that little more than a year later, I would witness the closing of Spirit Lake in Washington state, and the eruption of Mt. St. Helens that followed on May 18th, 1980.
Over 11 years later, in June of 1991, history for me would repeat itself as I read about Mt. Pinatubo erupting in the Phillippines, killing 800 people and leaving 100,000 homeless. Even though I was going through Anti Submarine Air Controller school at the time, I remember running into one of my old friends on the base I was quartered, who told me stories of incredible rescues and dogged determination of survivors and rescuers alike during that harrowing time. My friend went on to describe how ash had settled on buildings, the sheer weight often crushing rooftops and walls, the air so thick that engines would seize, stranding people to walk miles away from the volcano — as far as they could. Memories flooded my mind in a rush. Portland, 3 days after the wind shifted from the Mt. St. Helens eruption was decimated with ash. I was cleaning ash from my car for weeks, ash continuing to fall long after the volcano had subsided until the winds shifted once again. Pinatubo, and the stories that I heard brought back the disasters I had witnessed, and a dogged effort to remember those places that were damaged, even buried with ash — places that I had once strode upon in the 11+ years that I had visited and returned to in the Phillippines. I wondered if I had lost anyone I knew in the ensuing eruption that had taken place there.
So, after all the hype of what has been occurring in the news, I can only think of one thing. Our world is forever changing, always in motion, and as my wife constantly reminds me…in an ever-moving state of flux. Is the end of the world coming? More to come…