5 Surprising Upsides of Horrible Natural Disasters
There's a reason natural disasters are called that, and not "natural fun times." It's a constant scourge on our development as a species that we are perpetually beaten down by the wrath of nature. But that's why it's so surprising to learn that occasionally, just occasionally, natural disasters can have surprising upsides. Here are a few cases where the universe's fury has actually worked out pretty well for some of the people involved.
Earthquakes Bring Two Rival Nations Together
Surprisingly for two peoples united in their shared love of rotating meat, for most of the 20th century, Turkey and Greece really, really hated each other. As recently as the '90s, the Greek foreign minister was referring to the Turks as "thieves and rapists," while Turkey regularly celebrated its victory at the Battle of Smyrna by symbolically bayonetting actors dressed as Greek soldiers before hurling them into the sea and then stamping on a Greek flag. So it's probably fair to say that things were pretty tense.
But when a huge earthquake hit Istanbul and northern Turkey in 1999, the Greeks reacted out of character. Apparently concluding that a horrific natural disaster was worse than Turkey deserved, the Greeks stepped up to the plate, sending rescue crews and medical aid and raising a large sum of money for the relief effort. One Greek guy even called up the Turkish embassy and offered to donate a kidney to anyone who needed it. For the first time in decades, little rainbows started shining through the two nations' mutual disdain.
"They're hoarding gold! Kill 'em!"
Then, less than a month later, a separate earthquake hit Athens. At this point, we've got to believe Poseidon was attempting a kind of horrible diplomacy the only way that he knew how. But it worked, as Turkish rescue efforts flooded into Greece, with Greek commentators struggling to contain their emotion at the outpouring of support.
This time the thaw stuck around. Diplomats from the two countries started meeting to discuss closer relations. Greek ships began docking in Turkish ports for the first time in 25 years. Greece even agreed to drop their opposition to Turkey entering the European Union. The Turks even agreed to stop pretending to stab old-timey Greek soldiers. We assume they moved on to pretending to stab, like, North Koreans or somebody. The point is, all it took to break the ice was two earth-shattering cataclysms. Hey, it's just the way humans are.
Mississippi Floods Wash Away an Oil Spill, Replenish the Environment
What sucks about disasters is they almost never join up to cancel each other out -- the flood never comes just in time to put out the wildfire. But every once in a while, you get lucky. In 2011, the Mississippi River burst its banks and doused Louisiana in the worst flood that it's seen in about a quarter century, which is really saying something in a part of the world that gets pummeled constantly by hurricanes and other weather-related horrors. So why did NPR report it as "a good thing?" Do they just have a major hard-on for human suffering? No, it's because this time it was helping to undo a few earlier man-made disasters.
Like the rebirth of legendary superhero Swampsuit Johnny.
First, the effort to divert water away from the Mississippi had the effect of restoring the ecosystem that Louisiana needs to survive. Since some enterprising humans decided that nature would look better as a housing development, they wrapped the whole river in levees and dams so effectively that the native wetlands had been drying up and shrinking since 1930. The floods helped to mitigate this by replenishing populations of crawfish, shrimp, and other slimy critters that form the local residents' livelihood.
But even more than that, the 2011 floods had the dual benefit of washing away some of the nasty oil sludge left behind from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Oh, yeah, remember that?
It was kind of a big deal.
It's very difficult to get rid of crude oil in a natural area, but the flooding helped push some of that oil out of the wetlands where it could be more easily collected in the ocean. Of course, it would be nice if the Mississippi could achieve all this good without displacing thousands of people from their homes, but that's unlikely until we find a way to put all our houses on poles like in The Jetsons.
A Tornado Exposes a Child Pornographer
In September of 2004, Hurricane Ivan tore up the eastern U.S., killing more than 20 people and shooting tornadoes at the passing countryside. The most valiant of these tornadoes attacked the home of one Robert Medvee in Frederick, Maryland, and blew a hole in his roof. Medvee took a vacation at a friend's place while workers did the repairs.
In an oversight that would be hilarious if it weren't so horrific, Medvee forgot to clean his attic of the massive stash of child pornography he'd been storing in there, leaving workers to stumble upon the worst possible kind of hidden treasure. We kind of hope they took the rest of the day off to drink all of his beer before they called the cops.
"Excuse me while I go jam this through the stuff that isn't broken yet."
When the police arrived, the sheer amount of child porn they removed from Medvee's home needed a pickup truck to haul it all. Aside from old-timey VHS tapes and Polaroids, the police removed "well over 1,000 CDs." When they filed charges, they only charged Medvee with 48 counts of digital child pornography, because they'd only been able to check 48 of the CDs before their souls threatened to evacuate their bodies. The state's attorney called it "the biggest amount I've ever seen in one place."
So as much of a bad rap as tornadoes have made for themselves lately, we can definitely see ourselves getting behind this new species of vigilante tornado (and in fact, we would pay to see a buddy cop movie based around the premise).
"Look at him. Forty-eight hours to solve this case, and he's out there breaking all the rules."
Drought Is a Boon to Archaeology
Droughts suck all around. Water conservation restrictions drive up food and energy prices, make hotter weather worse, and steal all the fun out of water balloon fights. But if we can lay all those horrors aside for just a moment, we can focus on how amazing droughts are for archaeologists.
It's pretty simple -- digging for fossils and skulls and shit is next to impossible when they're under water, and when drought exposes lake beds to the sun for the first time, it's a freaking gold mine for scientists. For instance, you have the Texas droughts of 2011, which shrank lakes all around the state to a fraction of their normal size, revealing around 200 new sites and a shitload of artifacts, including the skull of an American native probably thousands of years old, 19th century marble tombstones, a cemetery of freed-slave children, and a piece of the tragic NASA shuttle Columbia.
That's the badass that was sent up to fix Hubble.
An Iraqi drought in 2009 uncovered most of a 120-mile flood zone created by Saddam Hussein decades ago. Because Saddam was terrible at both planning ahead and caring about anyone else's opinion, he had flooded a large number of in-progress archaeological digs. Not only were those uncovered by the drought, but so were a number of new sites, as the water had done most of the archaeologists' work for them. The drought-y goodness even extended to England when its sopping wet skies decided to quit the bottle cold turkey in the summer of 2010. Hundreds of prehistoric settlements and Roman encampments were discovered in farmers' fields and various pastures in the countryside, including 60 sites all on one particularly profitable day.
And just last fall, the record low water levels in the Vistula River in Poland uncovered a genuine stash of buried treasure netting more than 12 tons of marble sculptures missing since the 17th century, which were mostly in great condition -- no small feat, considering the Vistula's headwaters probably absorbed boatloads of Russian vodka-piss for a couple of those centuries.
Which probably acted as a bacteria killer in its toxicity.
So forget about Indiana Jones -- the greatest tool that archaeology has may be global warming. At the very least, we can enjoy the irony of learning about ancient destroyed civilizations through the same process that is destroying ours.
A Hurricane Prevents World War I from Breaking Out Early
In the late 19th century, tensions between Germany and America were already pretty high, and might have spilled over into a full on premature global war if not for one well-timed hurricane. In Samoa, of all places.
See, as it happened, both German and American businessmen had interests in the Samoan rubber industry. Before long, German warships were shelling Samoan coastal villages and an American fleet was steaming across the Pacific to tell them to knock it the hell off. Meanwhile, Britain also sent a ship, apparently solely because the chance to annoy the Germans and the Americans was too good to pass up. In all this time, nobody once thought to ask Samoa what they thought.
We're hoping they mostly just sat back and provoked them while giggling.
The three sides met in Apia harbor, where a taut standoff ensued for several months as tensions rose and politicians scrambled to find a solution. With no resolution in sight, a devastating global war seemed inevitable. Over Samoa. Well, we guess it is nicer than Bosnia.
But while the politicians bickered, the sailors in Apia had bigger worries. Their confrontation happened to coincide with the start of hurricane season, and the waters off Samoa were known for some pretty terrifying storms. But it was a standoff, so neither side could back down without looking like a bunch of little bitches. So for seven long months they stuck it out, until finally the hurricane season had passed and everyone could breathe a sigh of relief. That was of course when the hurricane hit.
"Why does the whole island smell like recently shat pants?"
A German cruiser went straight to the bottom with only four survivors. The flagship of the U.S. Pacific fleet was hurled around the harbor like a Slinky in a tumble dryer, managing to ram the only German ship to find a safe anchorage, before crashing very slowly into the already half-sunk USS Vandalia.
When the storm cleared, only one ship was still afloat, and the ensuing climate of "Oh God everyone's dead" effectively defused the crisis, as everyone suddenly woke up to the fact that "not the whole Samoan Archipelago was worth the loss in men and costly ships already suffered." A compromise was quickly reached and peace guaranteed for ... well, about another 16 years.
You can email Alex at firstname.lastname@example.org. Micah thinks you should go hug your grandmother. Seriously, go do it (assuming she deserves a hug).