Tuesday, May 18, 2010

An Anniversary

Exactly 28 years ago today, Mount St. Helens in SW Washington State erupted, 57 people died, and the resulting pyroclastic flow and ash cloud caused untold destruction of homes, businesses, highways, bridges and National Forest old-growth timber. It was a blow to the area that it has yet to recover from, even now.

I was fortunate enough to work at the official "Disaster Center" in Kelso, only about 50 crow-fly miles away from the mountain, for the next week, so I got firsthand accounts from people who had survived the blast. It was a terrible time but I was working with FEMA so I could witness firsthand the calm professionalism that they displayed to getting the job done. You remember FEMA, don't you? This was back in the day when they had competent people at the top and not Republican hacks.

I even got to meet and shake hands with Mister Peanut himself, Jimmy Carter.

One week after the major eruption -- one in which the prevailing winds sent the ash cloud to the east -- there was another eruption, and this time the winds sent it to the west. It was also raining that day (typical for the Pacific Northwest) and that meant it was raining mud. Electrical lines broke, phone lines were questionable, and driving in it meant that you would likely get sanded scrapes on your windshield from the muddy sandy grit being sluiced from side to side by your windshield wipers.

Anyone who lived through that time that close to the actual disaster will never forget it.

Which is why a year ago I watched with an odd combination of ironic mirth and gut-level disgust as Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal singled out volcano monitoring for a typical Republican swipe. He asked why it was included in the stimulus package, and then, obviously thinking he was scoring some rhetorical points, said "Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington".

Yeah, really clever, that Bobby Jindal. He probably thinks the US Geological Survey people truck the money up to the lip of the volcano and dump it in.

Actually, he and his teabag followers probably actually DO believe that.

Okay, so at the time I proposed a tradeoff. We'll stop the money for volcano monitoring in the Pacific Northwest (one of the most geologically active parts of the US) if he'll accept an equal cut for hurricane monitoring on the Gulf Coast.

But now that I think of it, that'd probably be just dandy for the Rethugs. They were, after all, the ones that brought us the real disaster of Hurricane Katrina...