The Great California Earthquake

It’s coming!  The Great California Earthquake.  The seismologists agree.  It is not “if” but “when.”  Thirty years ago in the futuristic novel GRID, I set the specific Great California Earthquake date in January 2019 and wrote in great detail about its far-reaching consequences.

Read the History Channel-like report from my chapter in the novel, and then decide how you can better prepare for this impending disaster.  Have no doubt; you will be affected by the Great California Earthquake no matter where you live in the USA, Canada, and Mexico.

THE GREAT CALIFORNIA EARTHQUAKE

If the Great California Earthquake had come prior to the stock market crash of September 2018, the entirety of the US Greater Depression might have been blamed on Mother Nature.  As it was, the country was already in economic chaos before the alarms began wailing along the West Coast San Andreas geological fault line.

Radar generated 3-D view of the San Andreas Fa...

Radar generated 3-D view of the San Andreas Fault, at Crystal Springs Reservoir near San Mateo, California. NASA Radar Provides 3-D View of San Andreas Fault (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The upheaval began on the morning of January 14, 2019, with earth tremors that escalated in magnitude until one shock registered 6.4 on the Richter scale.  This quake was enough to provoke a this is it mentality.  The mind-set had developed by over fifty years of ferment in a society that had anticipated (but not prepared for) their ultimate geological calamity. 

By the 16th of January, the highways and secondary roads were clogged with millions of evacuees fleeing the danger areas with all the worldly goods that they could transport.  There was still some order to this exodus because other millions had chosen to ignore or exploit the flight by remaining in the evacuated areas.  Then the major earthquake hit January 17 at 1:27 a.m. Western Pacific Time.  The Richter scale magnitude was a woeful 8.7.  American experiences were limited to the 1906 San Francisco quake at 8.3 and the 1964 Alaska eruption and tidal wave at 6.9.  Due to low population densities, the loss of life was limited to 503 in San Francisco and only 114 in Alaska.  The 2019 event was second only to the highest Richter reading ever recorded:  8.9 near Japan.  But never had such an earthquake occurred in one of the world’s most intense population centers.

Photo by Arnold Genthe 1906 San Francisco earthquake

Within six to eight hours the California death and injury toll soared into the millions.  Since most public records were lost and parts of entire cities have never been excavated, the death totals can only be estimated.  The official government figure of deaths attributed to the quakes from January 14 through January 18 is 3,741,000.  Other sources give estimates approaching 4.5 million.  Probably an equal number of people were injured, many requiring hospitalization.  In five days of earth tremors, major quakes, and aftershocks, the US had lost more citizens than all the wars in its history.  But there were more violent deaths and injuries to come.

The US was once again first at something.  It was the site of the greatest recorded natural disaster in the history of the planet.  For many of the refugees there was nothing left in their areas of California to return to.  No homes.  No jobs.  They owned only what they had crammed into their cars, vans, trucks, and buses.  They swarmed like locusts away from the decadent cities and lush farms of the once-rich California coast that extended from San Diego to Los Angeles to San Francisco—a line, which every citizen knew, also paralleled the stress of a collision of ancient continents known as the San Andreas Fault.

From this line of intense population marched a horde of survivors deep in the shock of disaster.  They first encountered barren desert landscapes as they fled east away from the fiery maelstrom of towns and cities imploding on themselves.  Like insects, they consumed all the food and fuel in their path.  And then they killed or were killed in the desperate panic over bread, water, and gasoline.

By January 19, California was an armed state at war with itself.  Every person on the dusty roads of fear was a guerilla fighter.  All of the combat weapons that Californians had coveted as their constitutional right had found a battleground. 

In the decades preceding the Great Earthquake, the American fetish for personal exotic weapons yielded the world’s highest murder rate.  American television and films pandered to armed violence as entertainment.  The most popular entertainments were those that featured the most stylish and effective forms of killing.  The media, in this way, instructed at least three American generations on the implements and tactics of armed assault.

Since the early 1980s, US citizens killed more of their fellow citizens with firearms every two years than died in their 10-year war adventure in Vietnam.  For young males in American inner cities, homicide was the leading cause of death.  The weapons of choice included the 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, the .357 magnum revolver, the 12-gauge, semi-automatic riot shotgun, and professional-soldier-combat-assault weapons like the AK-47, the AR-15, and the Uzi machine gun.

The spark of violence set off by fear and desperation, and reinforced by ready weapons, turned towns and cities on the edge of the devastated zone into battlegrounds.  Some early relief efforts that rushed into the swarm actually disappeared and their personnel listed as missing.  People and communities in the path of the refugees seemed more concerned with protecting their property than in providing relief.  Local police and citizen vigilantes set up roadblocks at the entries to their towns and attempted to prevent refugee entry.  The sides of every highway were littered with discarded goods and vehicles.  People too weary to continue flight set up impromptu camps and foraged for food and water.  Sooner or later, the blockades were challenged by force of arms, and once the gate was forced, a flood of hungry scavengers invaded the town.  Who or what once had been a few days before in the penthouses of Los Angeles counted for nothing on the narrow road of survival.  Animal strength and cunning were substituted for the old social order.  Those unprepared for the resulting violence substantiated Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” doctrine by dying on the roadside.

Relief teams from the Canada were forced to withdraw from the disaster areas after two helicopters loaded with supplies and their crews were lost to frenzied groups of earthquake survivors.  Chinese and other international aid was also discontinued after repeated complaints to the US government about the general disorder and violence.

No California National Guard units could be mobilized due to the destruction of equipment and loss of personnel and because guardsmen refused to report for duty.  Even surviving officers would not leave their families.  Border states mobilized National Guard units, but they were not ordered into California on relief missions.  Rather, they were armed and posted for the protection of their own territory against the refugee invasion.

Along major highways in Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon, ribbons of humanity were forced to keep to the roads and kept moving across the barren desert states only to encounter more of the same when they reached New Mexico, Utah, Washington, and Idaho.  No region had the resources to deal with the problem.  There were not enough hospital beds, not enough food, not enough water, not even enough gasoline to keep them moving by vehicle.  Cars, trucks, and buses were abandoned along every route.  Millions of people were on foot, possessing only what they could carry.

Regular US Army, Air Force, and Marine units were ordered into the areas bordering the quakes to restore order.  Aftershocks, which continued for thirteen days following the major earthquake of the 17th, however, prevented penetration into critically damaged zones.  Tens of thousands trapped in debris or too injured to evacuate themselves waited for relief that never came.   Most military troops were overwhelmed by the dimension of the need and sometimes found themselves in pitched firefights over their own supplies.  The US Government later admitted that the immediate quake area was not secured until February 13—some twenty-seven days after the major quake, and thirty days after the start of the initial evacuation.

The capitalistic culture had ingrained a philosophy of every-man-for-himself, and now an undisciplined society was to discover the consequences of its creed.  There were isolated incidents of heroism and self-sacrifice in the disaster areas and all along the refugee routes, but these were too few to alter the acts of the many.  The US had evolved into a country of too few heroes.  The spirit of decency and mutual consideration was lost and with it, any claim the country had to greatness.

Before the immediate impact of the Greater California Earthquake came to an end, there would be armed skirmishes in at least fourteen western states as far east as Texas and Oklahoma.  The conflicts erupted when militant refugees demanding relief met paranoid property owners.  The aggregate death toll from disaster and mayhem within the year is estimated at over eleven million.  The western third of the US was left destitute, its countryside ravaged, and its citizens completely demoralized.  What was lost could never be recovered.  It would take more than a decade to rebuild any semblance of society from the ruins.

But the humiliation of this once arrogantly proud nation had not run its course.  The Great California Earthquake was to precipitate yet another immediate consequence—The National Food Panic of 2019.

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