Friday, August 26, 2011

Still LIfe with Robin: Is It Safe?

by Peggy Robin
NASA image Hurricane Isabel

Earthquakes and aftershocks. Hurricane Irene heading up the coast. And in the not-so-distant past, Snowmageddon. Hurricane Isabel hammered us back in 2003. It was Bob in 1991, which left me sleeping on the floor of Newark Airport overnight. Gloria did some major damage to my parents’ house in 1985. And going back to 1972, there was Agnes, which took out the East-West Highway bridge just a few minutes after my friend Anne, who had just left my home (then in Chevy Chase) drove over it. She heard the noise of the crashing concrete and from her rearview mirror got a glimpse of the devastation behind her; so she told me over the phone in a shaky voice the minute she was back at her apartment in Silver Spring.

Then there are the countless unnamed events: flooding of the Potomac; wind and lightning storms that bring down tall trees and darken thousands or tens of thousands of homes for days, even weeks in some parts of the area. And summer heat waves with 100-degree days and Code Red air quality alerts that caution us against any unnecessary outdoor activities. It all can start you wondering if you’d be better off living somewhere else. But is there a city or large town (for we still like the cultural amenties of an urban environment) free from these or other natural disasters?

I had no need to ponder this question; all I had to do was Google it, and the answer came up from an article in Forbes Magazine in August, 2005: Honolulu. That’s right, Honolulu, Hawaii, is the American city least likely to suffer damage from any natural disasters. It does have the occasional risk of a tsunami, but the last one to cause any loss of life was in the 1970s, and that was to some campers in tents close to shore. Now there's an effective tsunami warning system in place, which has worked to prevent just that sort of loss.

The next two safest cities are Boise, Idaho, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Then Washington. No, not DC, but Yakima and Spokane. If you’re wondering how Washington, DC ranks, it’s #153. For comparison, LA is #282 (earthquakes and brushfires are the most frequently encountered dangers). New York is #126 (wind, weather extremes, hurricanes do the most damage – just as they do here). Chicago is #237, with wind as its number one natural enemy.

So, to be on the safe side, would I move to Honolulu? Or any of the 152 other cities that beat DC? Not in this lifetime, no matter how many angels fall off the top of the National Cathedral, no matter how many Irenes and other alphabetically designated storms may blow my way. I love DC, cracked monuments and all. I could never leave -- although I do like to travel to far-flung places, as often as I can. 

I happened to have been away when Tuesday’s earthquake shook the town. Guess where? In calm, pleasant, un-ground-shaking Southern California, that’s where. As my return flight was taking off for BWI, I learned that I’d be coming home to a gridlocked city, where the Metro was running at 15 miles an hour due to concerns about damaged tracks. A bit of geographical irony, that was.

Arriving home on Tuesday evening, I walked through the front door to find a few pictures hanging on the wall somewhat askew. One had fallen down but was not broken. I was – and am— happy to be home. 

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