Op-Ed

Imagining ‘the Big One’ – ‘We have to stop going behind the bushes at some point’

Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

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Preparing for resiliency after a great quake

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Editor’s note: This in one of a series of fictional accounts that imagine what life in Whatcom County would be like after a great earthquake funded by the Riverstyx Foundation. Each episode offers preparedness tips and discussion points. Read more about the series here.

Episode 13 - Day 1

I had trudged about halfway home in the misty twilight gloom when the ground started moving again. The second aftershock was worse.

As soon as the rolling and rumbling started underfoot, I crouched down, not waiting to fall. I could hear screams and shouts. By the time the shaking stopped, everyone was out on the streets again.

It was another aftershock. Predictable, inevitable. No less terrifying. It wasn’t as bad as the first big one, but it was bigger than the aftershock we had just a half-hour earlier. If it had happened all by itself, it would have been a big deal. I hoped everything that was going to fall down had done so in the morning. But I knew that was too optimistic.

I heard a woman’s voice screaming, about a half a block away.

“I can’t take any more of this! I just can’t!”

When I got back to my house, Sally and Jake were sitting in the front yard, huddling inside the blanket they were using when they reached my front door. Daisy was still inside, barking and wailing.

I went in to reassure her. That was a lot easier than reassuring Jake and Sally. They needed something to do, and so did I. I got the garden shovels out from the shed behind the house.

“Let’s dig a latrine,” I said.

“A what?” Sally asked.

“A potty pit.”

“Yeah,” Jake said. “We have to stop going behind the bushes at some point.”

Big One (6)

“Time to earn your spaghetti dinner,” I said, in a misplaced attempt at humor, as I handed them the shovels. “I’ve got a plastic tarp we can rig up for privacy.”

We picked out the most private, but none too private, corner of my small back yard, where a big holly tree and the slat fence provided a partial screen. Jake and Sally got down through the top foot and a half of soggy soil and clay pretty quick, but under that the ground was pretty hard.

The three of us stood staring stupidly at the pathetically shallow hole.

“Let’s dig a trench,” Sally said. “We can start using it at one end, and then fill it back up again as we go.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I said. “Let me have a turn with that shovel.”

In a few minutes we had a shallow trench from one end of the yard to the other. We strung up some pieces of rope on the fence, and on some bean poles from my garden, and hung the tarp.

It looked pathetic, but it would work as long as the wind didn’t come up.

Then I remembered something I had seen in an impromptu redneck campsite in a national forest at the end of a dirt road – beer cans in the bushes and bullets in the tree stumps. The spot I remembered had also been equipped with a patio chair with a hole cut in the seat. I had a couple of old patio chairs in the basement. We had them ready to go in no time.

At that point, all three of us were beyond exhausted.

“Let’s go inside and see if we can sleep,” I said.

“I’m not ready to go back inside,” Sally said. “When everything started shaking again, I freaked. I just can’t…”

“I get it. I have a tent. It’s going to be cold, but with the sleeping bags, you should be OK.”

“That would be great,” Jake said.

In a few more minutes, the tent was up, and Jake and Sally were huffing and puffing on two inflatable air mattresses. I was glad to see they still held air. I hadn’t used them in years.

The sight of that old green tent triggered memories of vanished happy times, camping in the Olympics with my wife and kids. I shook that off as fast as I could.

I went inside and lit the stove. I got the melting chocolate ice cream out of the freezer and scooped and poured it into a pot, while wondering how I was going to clean the other marinara-encrusted pot we had used for dinner. It didn’t take long to turn the ice cream into hot chocolate. I got out the graham crackers and squeezed some orange frosting onto them from the tube I had sort of looted from Haggen’s.

I tossed Daisy an unfrosted cracker, then took the steaming pot and the crackers out to the yard.

“Bedtime snack,” I said. We sat together for a few minutes, sipping the steaming chocolate from our mugs as we ate.

I went back inside and brought them a jug of water, the toothbrushes, and a small travel-size tube of toothpaste from my last visit to the dentist.

“We lucked out when we knocked on your door,” Sally said. “Thanks.”

“I’m glad for some company,” I said. “And for your help. This is going to be the worst camping trip of our lives.”

“How much more water do you have?” Jake asked.

“One more jug after this one’s gone,” I said. “But the creek’s just a few blocks away. I have a filter straw and a bottle of bleach. We’re not going to die of thirst. We can get down there and haul water tomorrow, and maybe wash out our pots, too.”

“All of a sudden we have Third World problems,” Sally said.

John Stark retired from The Bellingham Herald in 2014. His fictional account that imagines imagine what life in Whatcom County would be like after a Cascadia great quake is funded by the Riverstyx Foundation and also appears online at bellinghamearthquake.info.

Stay alert: Sign up for Bellingham Herald news alerts by text message at bit.ly/2G8amIy; sign up for Whatcom Emergency Alerts and get the AlertSense My Alerts app for your mobile phone in the Apple Store or from Google Play.

Take action: Family and neighbors are our first line of response in an emergency. As our fictional account wraps up Feb. 25, we’ll offer a printed map in the newspaper and downloadable maps online that will assist you in talking to your neighbors and taking note of skills and concerns that will help us all be more resilient and survive in the aftermath of disaster.

Today’s tip

Where are you going to go when the plumbing in gone?

With water and sewer lines busted by the quake, basic sanitation will be an immediate concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips online at .cdc.gov/healthywater.

A trench latrine dug into soil, with a temporary privacy structure (a tarp on a rope), is a likely option. Waste should be covered daily with soil.

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