4 Horrible Natural Disasters That Kicked Off a Second Wave of Devastation
If you’re a particularly unfortunate soul, you might have heard the idiom “trouble comes in threes,” or alternately, “bad luck comes in bunches.” Nowadays, you see it often in reference to celebrity deaths and the group mourning that goes along with them online. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t some true statement based on any realistic probability or magical tendency of misfortune. At least I hope not, or else I have just angered whatever omniscient shithead doles out such suffering. It’s more likely a mental fallacy in the form of a self-supporting prophecy that tends to group tragedies together.
Looking at natural disasters, though, it’s a bit of a different story. Maybe not neatly in triples as the saying might suggest, but the unfortunate truth is that natural disasters often, in the midst of all the human suffering they cause, can also trigger other natural disasters in a vicious cycle. It’s absolutely brutal to know that a country or area that was just laid out by one of Mother Nature’s particularly devastating haymakers is more than likely on the hook for a follow-up blow. Unfortunately, that’s often what happens, with these events being as traumatic to the environment they occur in as they are to the people living on top of it.
These are just four examples of natural disasters that set the stage for a second act...
Earthquake Causes the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004
The connection between earthquakes and tsunamis is one that might be more generally known, and it’s one that’s spawned a lot of devastating worldwide tragedies. Among not only the worst tsunamis, but natural disasters ever was the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. Many countries, including Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand were hit, and the death toll came in at over 225,000 people. For comparison, that’s roughly the entire population of Richmond, Virginia.
Though it was the tsunami itself that was responsible for this massive amount of death, the culprit at the base of the disaster was a massive earthquake occurring in the ocean off the coast of Sumatra. The earthquake, weighing in at an absurd 9.1 on the Richter scale, occurred at 7:59 a.m., and caused, over the next seven hours, the devastating tsunami.
Why exactly this happens seems like high science, but is remarkably understandable. If you’ve ever carried a soft silicone dog bowl or ice cube tray, you know how pressure on the bottom surface can cause the water to rush chaotically all over the place, and likely, your floor. The earthquake-tsunami relationship is similar, just on a significantly bigger scale. Large magnitude earthquakes that cause a vertical shift in the sea floor displace a massive column of water, which rushes away as the surface of the water evens out. It’s this displacement that can cause the devastating waves.
The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster
This disaster did, in fact, occur in threes. Through pure misfortune, in 2011, an earthquake off the coast of Japan would end in the second worst nuclear disaster of all time behind Chernobyl, irradiating an area of Japan with a radius of 30 kilometers, where wildlife and land still remain radioactive today. It began with that same devastating seed of destruction — the earthquake. Specifically, the Great Sendai Earthquake on March 11, 2011. The earthquake did plenty of damage on its own, but also, as in Sumatra, caused a series of tsunamis.
These tsunamis weren’t quite as horrific as the Indian Ocean tsunamis, but with a little assist from our own creations, they resulted in a new type of horrible disaster — a partial nuclear meltdown of the reactors at Fukushima. As a result, an area of 20 kilometers that surrounded the plant was completely evacuated. It wouldn’t be until November of the same year that the meltdown would be considered stabilized. The evacuation orders would stand until 2017, and there’s still an area of 143 square miles that’s considered uninhabitable.
Rain Causes Deadly Landslides in the Philippines
Generally, we understand that things like typhoons and tropical storms are highly dangerous, but I think the worry most people connect with them are the high winds and flooding. The rain itself, outside of the aforementioned flooding, isn’t always what we consider deadly. After all, it’s rain! The stuff Gene Kelly danced in! However, with the right bit of elevation and unfortunate geographic arrangement, that heavy rain can displace incredible amounts of earth that seemed, until the moment of truth, that it wasn’t ever going anywhere.
This is exactly what happened in the Philippines last year as a result of tropical storm Megi (or Agaton, in the Philippines). The torrential rain from the storm caused massive landslides in the province of Leyte, ones that buried entire houses in an instant. Thanks to effective evacuation, the death toll was relatively low, at roughly 40. Many more lives were ruined, though, as you can imagine when returning to the location of your house only to find that what was once a perfectly normal dwelling is now an inaccessible underground bunker.
Kilauea Volcano’s Self-Fulfilling Seismic Legacy
So far, we’ve discussed singular events occurring on a short timeline, with two of them directly related to earthquakes. Here, we’ll not only reverse the cause and effect but extend that timeline — to the tune of over 30 years. If you slept through high school geography, you might not know that earthquakes are caused by shifts in the planet’s tectonic plates. Knowing that, it’s not surprising that areas around volcanoes, often already along fault lines, can create an extremely messy seismic situation. The two can end up forming quite a gruesome twosome, as the lava flows from an active volcano can cause seismic activity, which opens up more escape valves for magma, which, well… so on and so on.
An excellent example of this at work is the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii. We’ll start in 1983, when Kilauea erupted, an event that in itself destroyed local homes as lava flowed to the number one place you don’t want it — the surface. However, conventional wisdom on a volcanic eruption is that it’s one big boom, a planetary cough that produces a bunch of very spicy phlegm. In reality, the “eruption of Kilauea in 1983” is more accurately described as the “eruption of Kilauea from the year 1983-2018” — a span of 35 years. This timeline is filled with a ping-pong match of volcanic activity causing seismic activity and vice versa, causing the entire area to be unwieldy.
At least that guy who looks like he’s jerking off in Pompeii didn’t have to go through the whole “will they, or won’t they.”