Travel Photo Thursday: Natural Disasters, Signs of the Times

April 26, 2012

in Travel Essays, Travel Photo Thursday

  • SumoMe

Hurricane_Katrina_August_28_2005_NASAYou’ve seen them all too often:  Newspaper photos, television film clips, and even YouTube videos, chronicling the the utter destruction caused when irresistible forces of nature—winds born of hurricanes, the sucking vortices of tornadoes, or the swirling waters of floods—overwhelm puny man-made structures.

I have lived in California for over forty years.  It’s known as “Earthquake Country,” and with good reason.

Not “The Big One”

On October 17, 1989, the earth south of San Francisco ripped apart. The office building in downtown San Francisco where my wife was working when the temblor hit swayed back and forth like a metronome. A car did a fatal nosedive where a section of the bridge across San Francisco Bay that connected San Francisco to Oakland had collapsed.The teams from those two cities had their “Bay Bridge” World Series brought to a grinding halt.  A double-decked freeway section in Oakland pancaked into a single, deadly layer. In San Francisco, buildings crumbled, and fires blazed.


For some Bay Area residents, it was “The Big One.” But not for me.

Fouling Mother Nature

Seven months before the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake Exxon Valedez spillmapshook up Northern California, Prince William Sound in Alaska was the site of a man-made disaster when the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ripped its hull open as it struck Bligh Reef just after midnight, fouling the marine environment and shoreline with over 11 million gallons of crude-oil. But it’s the natural calamity that happened there almost twenty-five years earlier that I’ve never forgotten.

Killer Waves

At at 5:36pm on Friday, March 27, 1964, Alaska Standard Time, what would become known as “The Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964” or “The 1964 Good Friday Earthquake,”  measuring 8.4 to 8.6 on the Richter scale, ruptured the earth’s crust 14 miles below Prince William Sound. The seismic shock waves were felt in Seattle where I was a high school senior at the time. The tsunami generated by the earthquake in Alaska caused damage south along the West Coast from Alaska to San Francisco Bay, and westward across the Pacific to Hawaii and Japan.

Crescent City tsunami-1964Later that year, my parents and I took a road trip from Seattle to Southern California.  In Oregon, we traveled down U.S. 101, the Pacific Coast Highway. Twenty miles after crossing into California, we reached Crescent City. It was like driving through a town that had been blown to bits by aerial bombardment and shelling by heavy artillery.

The tsunami spawned by the Alaska quake had pulverized a large section of that northwestern California coastal town as killer waves smashed into the shore and then were ripped forcefully back through harbor and out to sea again. Perhaps due to divine intervention, only eleven people lost their lives.


Disaster in Paradise

On October 15, 2006, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake occurred just off the coast of the “Big Island” of Hawaii.  When I arrived on vacation a year later, life seemed to be “back to normal,” but some damage from the quake had yet to be repaired.

During the last two days of my trip, I stayed at an an inn in Waimea whose buildings had been part of the famous Parker cattle ranch up in the Big Island’s “Cowboy Country.” While spending a lazy day exploring the north shore of the island, I stopped to photograph the Kalahikiola Congregational Church. Kalahikiola Church Banner

After taking a few photos of the north facade of the church, I walked around the front to shoot from the opposite side.  There, a hand-painted quotation from Psalms 46:1 hung above stone rubble that cascaded to the ground when a section of the church wall was rent asunder by the prior year’s quake.  Without that sign, my photo would, at most, have documented the quake damage. Having it “in the frame” created an image that could spread this message from the congregation: “Our faith in God remains unshaken.”

(There is an adage thattime heals all wounds.” Click here to find out if time’s healing power has managed to close this gaping wound in the side of the Kalahikiola Congregational Church.)

(Visit Budget Travelers Sandbox for more of this week’s Travel Photo Thursday shots.)

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