Friday, May 1, 2009

being on our own

65,000 people were evacuated after the earthquake in Aquila. A lot were moved to hotels and B&B’s but the rest were all living in tents. I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot.

We have our usual emergency go-bag with enough stuff for 24 hours in case we have to ship out in a hurry but seeing the evolution of the climate change and how the authorities are handling things we have now got a three day one too. No way do I want to share a tent city with the entire population of the Pellice Valley, I find it hard enough to get on with society when we have thick walls and woods to separate us, collective camping would be impossible. So if that means I have to pitch a tent in the garden and dig in the rubble of my house to get the food out to feed my family I will (and for this I have the biggest bloody crowbar you have ever seen!!).

‘But, hey, what’s the risk?’ I thought. So I started to try and find out and read up on the seismic risk relative to our area. I was quite surprised. I know we are in an earthquake zone, I mean 70% of Italy is and when we re-did the roof we had to do all the anti-seismic stuff, reinforced concrete bands round the tops of the walls and so on but apparently we are also in an area of seismic amplification. We have monitoring stations in quite a few places because apparently there’s a reasonable amount of movement. Reassuring!.

I couldn’t actually find any valid risk assessment and didn’t expect to but read a seemingly competent seismologist who said bluntly that if there had already been an earthquake in a particular zone there was obviously a fault line (you can’t fault this man’s logic) and nothing to suggest that another quake couldn’t happen ‘one day’, which was enough for me.

I also know that Torre Pellice had a series of earthquakes in 1808, what I didn’t know was that the big one was in the IX category mercalli (about 6.9 richter) more or less the same magnitude of the one in Aquila so I started to read up on what plans the civil protection and the town hall had implemented in case of an earthquake or other disaster here. Woozle sniggers. I’m not saying there aren’t any, just that they obviously don’t think us worthy of being told about them.

Judging from the situation in l’Aquila getting the chance to evacuate in time may depend on opportunity and forward planning and of course luck. A lot of people after the shocks at 11 pm got out and slept in their cars, and those that didn’t got caught at 3 am. I mean, imagine being stuck in the courtyard here at 3 am in nothing but your pyjamas with freezing temperatures and non-stop torrential rain (I’m a firm believer in sod’s law).

OK so the risk is minimal, infinitesimal perhaps but are we, or rather am I really willing to take the risk with my family? Considering the efficiency of the authorities to date especially with regard to prevention (more sniggers) I imagine if anything did happen we would be on our own for quite a while. We’ve had quite a few disastrous situations since the tipping point in 2000 - high winds, floods, mini tornados, lightening storms, landslides and so on – which we had to sort ourselves. I think the landslides of the last year typifies the potential situation; there were slides all over the place but all the rescue manpower was logically and rightly directed towards saving lives at the largest incidents and in an earthquake situation the focus would of course be on the town. So I think we can take it as read that we would be on our own hence my current interest in upgrading our survival kits to cover 10 days or more.

OK I know I may appear to be one of these weirdo survival nuts but I’d rather look silly now than feel silly later .The more I look at footage and read up on the effects of recent and increasingly frequent extreme weather events on local populations the more it seems silly and selfish, considering the minimal investment in time and energy in preparing essentials like food and water shelter and bedding, not to at least consider what the likely scenarios are and at least have an idea of what to do.

A phrase I have always had stuck in my mind says ‘disasters occur when hazards meet vulnerability’. If you do your best to reduce vulnerability you are helping reduce the entity of the disaster.

When the power lines came down last year with a lovely display of sparks which, though inconvenient and despite the line draping over our roof, was not actually an emergency, I repeatedly phoned every authority from police to fire to the electric company to civil protection and the town hall and mayor to find out how I should act and none were even answering the phone, no prioritising of interventions no reassurance. Zilch. We had to cut the trees off the line and repair it ourselves. Heaven help us in a real emergency. This puts the whole thing into perspective, for me anyway, because apart from anything else that means if we were not able to look after ourselves somebody would have to look after us and to find them, because it is unlikely they would find us, we’d have to leave here and place ourselves at the mercy of the administration which I would prefer to avoid.

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