In my last column, I wrote about the earthquake hazards inherent with life in the Pacific Northwest. However, as you’re probably aware, the “really big” quake isn’t the only devastating natural force perking in the Puget Sound region. (Somehow “perking” seems like the appropriate word.) Alas, the state’s most beautiful, backyard tourist attraction is also an active, boiling volcano and, just as St. Helens did in 1980, it could blow its top any day with very little warning. And this will happen, make no mistake about that. The only question is when.
Scientists guess it will happen sometime between tomorrow and the next 50 years. All the sensors geologists have buried in the mountain will only give us a few hours notice, barely enough time to evacuate the low country.
When it occurs, the destruction will dwarf anything we witnessed from St. Helens because Rainier is much larger and, therefore, will pack considerably more punch. No doubt Enumclaw will be covered with at least five or six inches of poisonous, possibly radioactive, volcanic ash and perhaps as much as two or three feet, depending upon weather conditions and the prevailing wind at the time. This means cars and trucks won’t start — or, if they do, they’ll only run a few minutes before they choke and die. The same is true for people and they’ll need to wear some kind of facial mask to filter the air.
All the mountain’s glaciers — indeed, the largest, single glacial system in the continental U.S. — will melt, creating hot, boiling rivers of polluted water, steam, mud, downed trees, and other unlabeled corruption that will rush down the Green, White, and Carbon River gorges, flooding the low country and wiping out Orting and South Prairie.
Now, if you really want to stretch your nihilistic imagination, the serious West Coast earthquake I described in my last column could trigger the Rainier eruption. Such duel catastrophes have happened many times in other places on the planet and there’s no reason it couldn’t happen here. Thus, we’d have lahars sweeping across the valleys and plains, accompanied by a monster earthquake and a 700-mile tsunami that would reduce all the population centers on Puget Sound to absolute rubble.
This would produce the post-apocalyptic world currently so popular in sci-fi books and movies; that is, after some kind of catastrophe, phones don’t work, highways have collapsed, and the veneer of civilization has dissolved, leaving people in a savage state, roaming wildly about the countryside seek- ing shelter and food. Martial law is declared and, hopefully, the Army will restore some trace of social order.
Such dire predictions have given rise to “survivalists,” who are preparing for just such a holocaust. They have built underground homes or as least underground bunkers with air-filter systems, barred windows, cast iron doors, and stockpiles of canned food. And let’s not forget a collection of AK-47 automatic assault rifles and any other illegal combat weapons and explosives they’ve been able to obtain. When Armageddon strikes, they’ll retreat to their fortresses, lock the doors, and hunker down. As the Boy Scouts remind us: be prepared.
But it’s different with me, probably because I don’t have any family in the immediate area. I suspect I’ll just put on some type of filter mask, wade into the ash, and walk to town. I assume the watering holes will still be open, with or without power.
Yeah, you guessed it. Given such a bleak scenario, I’d just get plastered.