Imagining ‘the Big One’ – ‘Maybe we need to get things more organized’

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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 19 - Day 3

The man with the bad foot had been at Charlie’s for a plate of venison, but he had left a few minutes earlier. When he got home, his door was ajar and he could see a flashlight beam moving around inside.

Joe groaned when he heard that. He went over to talk to Charlie, Ralph and the gang.

They got together with the hobbling man, whose name was Gene, and they headed down the street.

I followed them. So did Sally.

We got to the house just as the intruders were leaving. A man and woman in their 30s. They were carrying two shopping bags full of stuff right out the front door. I didn’t recognize them.

The woman saw us first and dropped her bag.

“Oh God! We’re sorry!”

The man started, then managed a sheepish grin.

“You caught us fair and square. We’ll just leave now, OK?” he said, setting his own bag gently on the ground.

“Just hold it right there,” Joe said.

Sally walked right over and looked into the bags.

Big One (6)

“They were looking for food,” she said. “They’re hungry.”

Gene hobbled over to retrieve the bags. He reached inside one of them and pulled out a big can of beef stew and a box of rice noodles.

“Take these and get out of here,” he said.

They disappeared.

“I bet they aren’t the only ones hungry. Maybe we need to get things more organized,” Sally said. “How many people live in this neighborhood? How much food do we have? Who’s hungry? Who has a little food to spare? How long can we hold out with what we have?”

“Makes sense to me,” Gene said.

“OK then,” Joe said to Sally. “Do you wanna take it on? First thing tomorrow, you can go door-to-door and take inventory.”

His tone was mocking, but her answer wasn’t.

“You got it,” she said.

I looked at Gene. He seemed a bit spooked.

“I can spend the night here,” I said. “I can bring my dog. She’ll start barking if anybody tries to break in.”

“That would be great!” Gene said.

“OK,” Joe said. “I’m going to try to get some men to walk the alleys during the night. Maybe even a woman or two,” he said, trying to get a rise out of Sally.

“Try not to creep everyone else out,” she said.

I went back to my house to get Daisy and a toothbrush.

Gene lived in a very small old house that was probably built by a millworker a hundred years ago. When Daisy and I got back there, he was sitting in his tiny kitchen warming himself by a kerosene heater. He had water steaming over a tiny backpacker’s stove.

Gene was a hardcore outdoorsman – kayaking, mountaineering. His walls were decorated with pictures of himself atop peaks in the Andes and Himalayas. I didn’t ask how he made a living.

Maybe he was one of those people who didn’t need to.

He had been inside his storage shed when the quake hit. A kayak fell from its brackets and landed on his foot. He figured he had a broken bone in his foot, but he’d had those before.

Once the water was boiling, he ripped open a foil pouch and stirred in some freeze-dried apple cobbler.

“Time for dessert,” he said. “Might help get the taste of those beans out of your mouth.”

Gene had a big green plastic tub full of freeze-dried backpacker food and energy bars, enough to last him for weeks.

“I guess I’m going to need to share some of this,” he said, with a note of regret.

“You’re a good man to know,” I said, through a mouth full of cobbler.

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

Should you be concerned about looting?

Looting and panic are disaster myths. Those who study disasters find that disasters tend to bring out the best in people. Cooperation and altruism are common. Crime drops. When people do enter homes, it’s most often to search for water, food and clothes or to find personal belongings of friends or family.

A Chicago Tribune story notes that people often exaggerate the threat of looting after a disaster.